April 8, 2015

Russian Submarine Fire - Orel Perhaps a Write-Off?

A photo (Courtesy of Pravda) released later on April 8, 2015 indicates a much more serious fire on the Orel (Oscar II class) submarine than Russian media were prepared to reveal earlier in the day.

A Pravda article released late April 8, 2015 provides much more information on the Orel submarine fire (and a bit of anti-US propaganda) than news articles earlier on April 8.

"The fire sparked during welding works...

 "The Orel submarine's "underwater displacement is about 25 thousand tons, and surface displacement - 22 thousand tons."

"...Cruise missiles torpedoes and all aggressive liquids - turbine oil and diesel fuel had been removed from the submarine as well. " 

[Propaganda wise] "According to Mikhailov, such fires happen very often, especially on US submarines. The Americans even took lessons from us on how to ensure the survivability of a vessel ship in a state of repair."

[What was on fire]"...the fire occurred during welding works between the outer and the pressure hull in the area of the aft compartment 9. The rubberized anti-noise insulation caught fire. The sonar coating on the submarine is at the top of the outer hull. There was a thinner layer of rubber between the outer and the pressure hull. Such things occur frequently during hot works, and it is not clear why such a fuss in connection with the ignition," the correspondent said. ...A part of the crew remained on board the submarine to prevent the fire from spreading inside the hull. Eight fire brigades of Zvezdochka Shipyard took part in the operation to extinguish the fire.
"...it was not an emergency situation." 
"However, a criminal case was filed into the fire on board the Orel nuclear sub. The case was filed in accordance with Art. 216 of the Criminal Code - "violation of safety regulations during the works that entailed major damage by negligence.""
[However] "To extinguish the fire, it was decided to flood the dock, in which the submarine was staying. 
According to most recent reports, the fire on board the Orel submarine caused the damage of more than 100 million rubles [US$1.87 million]. the fire damaged the descent and ascent systems of the submarine." See WHOLE PRAVDA ARTICLE 

While the Pravda report is part titled "major damage" with eight fire brigades attending, that "it was not an emergency situation" is unconvincingPravda does however attempt to explain where the damage occurred.

In terms of the cost of the damage Pravda says it is more 100 million rubles (US$1.87 million).

As - the Orel displaces around "22 thousand tons" (Surfaced) it is very large and would have cost a great amount for Russia to build with Russia's limited defence budget. The Russian Navy now has only 4 active Oscars. All this means time in dry dock rather than at sea (an opportunity cost) is very expensive. 

Perhaps the extra repair time may be 2 years making Orel non-operational until 2018. A damage and non-operational bill not $2 million but $200 million might be more accurate.

Another issue is the seawater time of the Orel's hull. It was launched in 1992 pointing to a 2022-2025  use-by date. The prospect of a relaunch in 2018 may now make further work on the Orel uneconomic, perhaps rendering the Orel a write-off. This is all up to the Russian Navy's accident assessors, Russia's declining national (oil dependent) budget and perhaps the pride of Putin.


There appears to be a tightly packed collection of shipping around the submarine on fire. Wouldn't they be at fire or at least smoke risk? Perhaps  authorities moved ships around the sub on fire to reduce the number of embarrassing photos?
Reuters (carried in the SMH) reported April 8, 2015: "[Russian RIA] news agency reports said the fire [on the Oscar II class submarine Orel]  had started near the stern during welding work that caused insulation materials to catch fire. RIA quoted a well-informed source as saying it was proving hard to put out the blaze because of thick smoke.

"At the moment they are 'attacking' with foam to try to put out the fire but it's not having any effect. Because of this they are considering whether to fully submerge the whole dock under water," the source said."

Note commentary of this Youtube includes "authorities accused of hiding information" in the past.

Although "80 firefighters and 20 fire trucks were involved in the work to extinguish the fire" Russian authorities claim after "preliminary inspections of the “Oryol”, no important infrastructure was damaged".


The Russian authorities are clearly taking pains to minimise the seriousness of the fire. 

An alternate theory, to the fire starting with insulating material, is that the welding set fumes from the backup batteries alight. Even nuclear subs have batteries. Battery fumes are a more common cause of submarine fire than merely insulating material.



Vigilis said...

Hi Pete,

"Perhaps authorities moved ships around the sub on fire to reduce the number of embarrassing photos?"

And such photos might contradict official statements. For instance:

1. Officially there were no injuries: and no photo of an ambulance retrieving casualties.
2. Zvezdochka shipyard spokesman Yevgeny Gladyshev, told Interfax that the vessel's dock had been submerged in water in order to put out the fire and that the submarine's hull was still being doused from above. - Quenched from below and above on vessel's outer hull only? That "insulation" must retain incredible amounts of heat.
3. No major damage: BBC reports that Gladyshev also told Tass news agency that the water would not cause any damage to the equipment inside the submarine because the inner hull remained closed.
4. Then, of course, welding hsd caused an insulation fire exterior to the inner hull
a) [at video 0:50 seconds] suppression hoses were trained on the hull from midships to bow [where is the sub's battery well?];
b) [at 0:56 seconds] firefighters appear near a topside hatch (atop sail?) from which steam/smoke is arising. Is smoke/steam rising through hatch atop sub's sail without coming from the sub's interior?

Something other than "insulation" was cooking, for sure.

Regards, Vigilis

Anonymous said...

I was of the impression that battery fumes tend to go BANG rather than burn. I know when I was riding the boat people were very cautious (paranoid maybe) about that.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

Thanks for the questions you raise. Even Putin's naval advisers have sensed the holes in the ever changable official account.

As if to respond to the doubts of we unconvinced Western observers. Pravda ("Truth") added a still ambiguous report "Fire on board Orel nuclear submarine causes major damage" later on April 8, 2015 http://english.pravda.ru/russia/economics/08-04-2015/130224-orel_nuclear_submarine-0/
It carries a much more graphic photo.

While the Pravda report is part titled "major damage" it goes into propaganda mode - stating that US submarines often suffer such damage and that ""The Americans even took lessons from us..."

Pravda does however attempt to explain where the damage occurred.

In terms of the cost of the damage Pravda says it is more 100 million rubles (US$1.87 million).

As the sub displaces around "22 thousand tons" (Surfaced) - the Russian Navy only has 5 active Oscars (meaning time in dock rather than at sea is very expensive) - and the extra repair time may well be 2 years - the damage bill may be more like US$2 Billion to US$4 Billion.

What do you think?



Peter Coates said...

Hi DaffyD

Something seemed to make a great deal of plastic and rubber very hot, very quickly. Perhaps there was an explosion (maybe just moderate but enough to cause the secondary fires, causing the very visible smoke).

If it happened in the US or Oz we'd hear about it in our free-er press. But I don't think Putin's men would allow such wild, disloyal, speculation, implying poor safety to be voiced.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis and DaffyD

Using the Pravda article I've added more information and comments in blog post.


Anonymous said...

Situation is very serious. High temperature blazing and successive water quenching correspond to severe thermal annealing and thermal shock, respectively. The former may induce hull damages such as reduction in toughness and yield strength and the later may generate cracks. These damages are invisible except big cracks, but very dangerous and sometimes fatal for the high pressure vessel like submarine. Hope nothing worse will happen.

Vigilis said...

Hi Pete

Russia's propaganda machine will be working overtime in attempts to equate "minor damage" with the inevitable delays in relaunching Orel.

Of course, since Russia's submarine schedules are typically underestimated (by years), unless Russia ultimately makes the USS Miami (SSN-755) decision (scrap) who would ever know the truth?

We should probably not forget that criminal charges were also leveled inthe very suspicious and embarrassing USS Miami fire.

Perhaps we might even expect an eventual US-RU prisoner exchange.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous (of April 9)

Thanks for the update pointing to likely hull damage. Seems likely my $200 million damage estimate, in the April 9, text may be too low.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

There indeed are many parallels to the USS Miami fire http://aquilinefocus.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/ominous-submarine-portents-part-4-ncis.html .

I'm wondering if the Russian welder was smoking a cigar and flicked his butt into the sub hatch.

I'd say the Russians will probably bury the issue - with a small notice in a 2017 edition of Pravda (page 43) that the Orel has been gloriously scrapped.

Australia experienced outright sabotage a while back:

"On 5 December 1976, a fire was deliberately lit by a Fleet Air Arm member near the aircraft hangars at HMAS Albatross. The fire destroyed or seriously damaged twelve of the thirteen S-2 Trackers in the RAN's possession."


A one-way ticket to the Gulags well earned.