One dead, two missing as Russia’s only aircraft carrier catches fire

December 13, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Russia’s lone aircraft carrier – the ageing Admiral Kuznetsov – caught fire on Thursday morning following an accident sustained while under repair in port near Murmansk.

Footage of the fire showed thick black smoke rising above the decks of the vessel. According to Russian news agencies, one naval officer died in the fire, with two also unaccounted for. Twelve men were given medical assistance for injuries, mostly connected to smoke inhalation, with seven of them remaining in a local intensive care unit.

Reports said the fire began shortly after 10am local time, and followed welding repairs in the engine room. Initially limited to a 20 sq m area, flames advanced quickly owing to the extensive diesel stores onboard. Both naval officers and maintenance workers were on board at the time of the accident.

Local news website Severpost carried a witness account. The source, a worker, described scenes of “chaos” as men “ran for their” lives down smoked-filled corridors.

“We could smell burning so we went up to the top deck,” he said. “Everything was in smoke and you couldn’t see past your hand … It soon became a case of every man for himself.”

The news continues a torrid recent history for the Soviet-built vessel.

Commissioned in 1990, the last year of the Soviet Union, the ship suffered from several years of neglect and diminishing military budgets, with only one major refit in three decades. Over the years, the Kuznetsov developed an unenviable reputation for breakdowns.

In 2016, the vessel was sent on a rare deployment to support Russia’s Syrian operation. But its journey to the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea via the English channel – accompanied as it was by plumes of smoke – made the ship an object of ridicule. It undermined any ability to project Russian military power.

The ship was also blamed for the loss of two planes during the Syria operation.

Thursday’s fire was not the first accident to happen during repair works. Last year, the carrier sustained major damage when a 70-ton floating crane smashed into its hull.

At the time, many believed that meant the decrepit vessel would soon be headed for the scrapheap. But instead Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced a major refit to be completed by 2020.

That timetable is now under doubt. According to Alexei Rakhmanov, president of the United Shipping Company that owns the Zvezdochka shipyard near Murmansk, emergency workers faced a battle to “save the viability of the ship”​.

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