Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

At Least Twenty Deaths Reported On Russian Submarine

Russian media sources are reporting that 20 sailors and shipyard workers were killed during "testing" after a "fire extinguishing system unexpectedly went off". From a BBC report on the incident:
Russian Pacific Fleet spokesman Igor Dygalo said both sailors and shipyard workers died in the incident, which occurred during sea trials.
He said the submarine itself had not been damaged and there had been no radiation leaks...
...The submarine, whose name and class have not been revealed, has been ordered to suspend sea trials and return to port in the far eastern Primorye territory, Capt Dygalo said...
...There were 208 people on board at the time, 81 of whom were servicemen.
Twenty-one injured people have been evacuated from the submarine, sources at the fleet said.
Reports say the incident occurred in the nose of the vessel. The nuclear reactor, which is in the stern, was not affected.
The first linked article says that the sub is "now moving to a temporary base. It is being escorted by an anti-submarine ship and a rescue vessel."

The number of civilians on board indicates that the BBC report is correct that this seems to have happened during sea trials. I mentioned late last month that the Akula-II submarine RFS Nerpa, rumored to be heading to India on lease after shakedown, was out on sea trials. As I doubt that the Russians would have enough shipyard resources to have two boats out on sea trials in the Pacific simultaneously, I'd guess that this is the affected boat. This AFP article on the new incident reaches a similar conclusion.

Russian submarines operate with much smaller crews than American boats, so I would imagine that they rely more on automatic fire suppression systems than our boats do. (The Russians have lost at least one submarine to fire relatively recently, so I imagine they have a special interest in designing robust fire extinguishing systems.) Most naval fire suppression systems would probably use either CO2 or a Halon-like chemical, both of which would displace oxygen in the environment. While you have to take everything the Russians say with a grain of salt, I could imagine the fire suppression system emptying its contents into the torpedo room, and the inexperienced crew following their fire procedures and isolating all compartments; this could have resulted in the O2 concentration in the Torpedo Compartment dropping below that required to support life. In any event, this is quite a tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the families and shipmates of the fallen mariners.

Update 1951 08 Nov: This Reuters article is reporting that the Russian media is quoting a shipyard source as saying that the submarine involved is the Nerpa.

Update 2053 08 Nov: Russian Navy Blog has a translation of a Novosti report that discusses the types of fire suppression systems used on Russian submarines. Applicable excerpt:
The chemical system is designed to extinguish any type of fire in a space except for fuel and ammunition fires and consists of a fire supression station located in all compartments except the reactor compartment. The reactor compartment is covered by stations located in the 5th and 7th compartments.
The extinguishing agent is Halon 114B2. The system can deliver three shots of extinguishing agent to each space. The system can be activated remotely from the central command post or from a local control panel as well as manually from the station in the compartment.
I could imagine that if the whole Halon storage tank emptied into one compartment due to a failed valve/pipe, rather than operating in a fixed number of short bursts, that could result in a Halon concentration high enough to drive the oxygen levels too low in the breathing space --especially if the compartment was isolated so as not to spread the Halon to the remainder of the ship.

Update 0730 09 Nov: An update from the CNN website:
The victims died of poisoning from Freon gas that was released Saturday when the fire-extinguishing system accidentally turned on, said Sergei Markin, an official with Russia's top investigative agency.
His agency has launched a probe into the accident, which Markin said will focus on what activated the firefighting system. He suggested there could be possible violations of operating rules, which points to human error...
...The submarine returned to Bolshoi Kamen, a military shipyard and a navy base near Vladivostok, state-run Rossiya television said.
Dygalo said the deaths and injuries were due to the "unsanctioned activation" of the firefighting system in the two sections of the submarine closest to the bow.
Seventeen civilians and three seamen died in the accident and 21 others were hospitalized after being evacuated to a destroyer that brought them to shore, Markin said in a statement, revising earlier casualty figures.
Hopefully Sergei Markin was misquoted, or at least his investigators know the difference between Freon and Halon. And the Navy spokesman quick announcement of "unsanctioned activation" indicates that they're looking to go the scapegoat route, or anything to take blame away from bad construction or design. My guess is they'll blame one of the dead shipyard workers; it'll be especially good for Russia if one of the dead was an Indian rider, 'cause that'll give them someone non-Russian to blame.

Update 0955 09 Nov: Based on this translation at Russian Navy Blog of a commentary on the site, I'm starting to think that the Russians don't have a separate word for "Halon", and use "Freon" to describe both the refrigerant and fire suppression haloalkanes. My Russian is a little rusty, but I picked up the word "фреона" in the Russian article ("freona" would be the English transliteration), which clearly means "Freon".

Update 1255 09 Nov: This AP article has some good updates, including the information (Russian-supplied, so evaluate accordingly) that the victims were found to have "Freon" in their lungs. This CSM article, on the other hand, confuses AFFF with chemical extinguishers, so probably isn't worth spending your time reading.

Update 1437 10 Nov: Here's an AP follow-up with some theories from some Russians about what might have happened.

Update 1551 11 Nov: Some of the survivors speak.


Blogger midwatchcowboy said...

Seems like the community of submariners gets periodic reminders of the challenge of building and operating these vessels. Only our diligence seems to keep the lessons coming from our former adversaries.

11/08/2008 8:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised the Russki's are using Halon on submarines.

The older MSC ammo ships and AFS's still use Halon in the engineering spaces. It's contained in 300 lb. cylinders and located throughout the engine room and fwd/aft Emerg Diesel spaces. there's an elaborate remote control panel for discharging the Halon system. Also local activation station located in engine control room. There is a 30 second alarm, both audio and blinking light, prior to activation to allow evacuation of the space prior to discharge. One bad thing about Halon is that when heated above (can't remember the temp) it turns into phosgene gas.

Great huh???

Keep a zero bubble......


11/08/2008 10:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It says 17 were civilians... I wonder if any Indians were on board?

11/09/2008 5:56 AM

Blogger WillyShake said...

I find your theoretical scenario very likely--and so very sad indeed.

I remember thinking as a naive young Chemistry major that the haologen gases (& their related "haloalkanes" or "organic halides" ) were "good" because they were so stable. Of course, stability brings with it insidious qualities as well--like colorlessness, odorlessness, and nonflammability. Three qualities that no doubt promoted the use of this gas on shipboard--but (again tragically) sealed the fate of these poor sailors and shipyard workers.

11/09/2008 7:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every headline screams "nuclear". That's so depressing.

We are of course keeping the victims and their comrades and families in our prayers today.

11/09/2008 7:24 AM

Blogger Jarrod said...

NPR this morning also reported that freon was the agent released. Is it possible that the yard installed refrigerant flasks where halon/CO2 belonged?

11/09/2008 9:53 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

I'm starting to think the Russians don't differentiate between "Freon" and "Halon". See my 0955 update to the main post.

11/09/2008 10:02 AM

Blogger Jarrod said...

Interesting. It's still crazy to use either on a sub, though.

11/09/2008 10:28 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oz, we have the capability of inerting the MC with Nitrogen during a worst case inferno. The difference is, although possible, that's not our primary means of combating a fire.

And, between the thousands of pounds hydraulics, HP air, warheads (conventional and otherwise), toxic propellant, a nuclear reactor, countermeasures and other class D material, small arms, higher voltage AC and a lead acid battery capable of power a small town all packaged in a compact tube and submerged beneath one of the most unforgiving environments, whats a little halon gonna do that the aforementioned can't? This just shows that you can't let your guard down at anytime.

11/09/2008 10:58 AM

Blogger Navy Blue Cougar said...

To the 5:56 am anon post. I read an article from The Times of India that quotes a source that no Indians were on board.

Link to The Times of India article

11/09/2008 1:06 PM

Blogger Navy Blue Cougar said...

To clarify my comment, it says no Indian Sailors were on board, so perhaps that leaves open the possibility of Indian civilians.

11/09/2008 1:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The death of any submariner is a tragedy. My prayers to those involved.

11/09/2008 7:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freon 13B1 is also known as Halon 1301 and is used in fire suppression systems.

11/09/2008 10:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's really amazing is the amount of information being broadcast...not like the old days!

11/10/2008 10:28 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Freon 13B1 is also known as Halon 1301 and is used in fire suppression systems.

Now freon being announced makes sense!

For oz - RE: Interesting. It's still crazy to use either on a sub, though.

I don't know what the new boats are using but freon was used in AC plants up to the LA class boats without a big problem. It was monitored and if detected, immediate action was taken to find the leak and repair it.

On the other hand, if A-gang was getting a little uppity, out came the spray can of freon kept around for degreasing while in port (this was pre global warming remember!) and a few puffs later the poor SOB's would be looking for that non-existent leak.


11/10/2008 11:34 AM

Blogger Jarrod said...

I'm not simple, Anon. I know first-hand about AHP and hydraulics, but it's hardly the same thing as freon in the fire suppression system. See, when you release those first two things you call it a casualty, not an immediate action.

11/10/2008 6:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

11/10/2008 8:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that it makes a difference, but Freon is a trade name (Dupont) like Kleenex. Allied chemical calles their refrigerants Genetron.

11/11/2008 9:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some new news regarding the investigation.

Is he truly the guilty party, or is he just a scapegoat?


11/13/2008 3:06 PM

Blogger Zoe Brain said...

It wouldn't be the first time that Scumbag Civilian Contractor Sea Riders were provided neither with safety equipment, nor the training in how to use it.

And I don't just mean in the Russian Navy either.

At least we get made aware of the situation beforehand though, and are told that we should just get out of the way of those who know what they're doing. We're assured that every effort will be made to recover our bodies. Sometimes while we're still alive, as long as ship safety isn't compromised.

It's not as if we don't volunteer to do the job either, knowing the risk.

And at least in Australia, we wouldn't have 208 on a boat normally crewed by 70. They were lucky they didn't lose more.

11/13/2008 8:08 PM

Anonymous Daniella said...

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9/01/2012 6:05 AM


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