Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier 2012 Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation 2012

Russian Carrier Kuznetsov Damaged During Repairs

Criminal Investigation Launched into Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov Incident

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, has been damaged while undergoing repairs in the north of the country after the floating dock holding it sank in the early hours of Tuesday and a crane crashed onto its deck, tearing a gash up to 5 meters wide.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is the flagship of the Russian Navy. The aircraft carrier is designated as a heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser, or TAVKR in Russian classification. Launched in 1985, she has been undergoing refitting since July this year following military operations in the Mediterranean in support of the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad.

It was being overhauled on one of the world’s biggest floating docks in the icy waters of the Kola Bay near Murmansk close to where Russia’s Northern Fleet is based and was due to go back into service in 2021.

Maria Kovtun, Murmansk’s governor, said in a statement that a rescue operation had been launched and 71 people evacuated after the floating dock holding the ship had begun to sink.

The carrier had been successfully exited the dock before it completely sank, she said.

Investigators, who said they had opened a criminal investigation into the incident that would look at whether safety rules had been violated, said one person was missing and four others were being treated for hypothermia after being plucked out of the water.

Alexei Rakhmanov, head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, told the TASS news agency that the ship’s hull and deck had been damaged, although what he called the vessel’s vitally important parts had not been harmed.

“There is a jagged hole 4-5 meters wide,” Rakhmanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“It’s obvious that when a 70-ton crane falls onto the deck, it’s possible that there could be such damage. We consider the damage to be insignificant.”

Yevgeny Gladyshev, a spokesman for the shipbuilding factory which operated the floating dock, told the RIA news agency that unspecified equipment had been damaged but that much of the deck had been spared because it had been removed during the refit.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is now at the 35th Ship Repair Plant.

Recovering Floating Dock PD-50

The floating dock had been hit by a power outage which had caused its ballast tanks to fill up rapidly, prompting it to sink, the factory said.

According to TASS, the operation to recover the sunken floating dock PD-50 in Murmansk could take six months to one year to accomplish. An unnamed defence source told TASS:

“The enormous size and displacement of the floating dock as they are, the operation to recover it will be rather tricky. A great deal will depend on whether it lies flat or on the side. The moment it sank the floating dock developed a list, so most probably it is on the side, which will complicate the operation. The experience of recovering a sunken nuclear submarine (The Kursk) indicates, that the operation to recover the floating dock may take at least six months or last for a whole year.”

Russian authorities plan to establish a commission to investigate the sinking of the PD-50 floating dock in Northern Russia, which will also decide on whether it should be lifted from the seabed, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said on Tuesday.

The PD-50 is one of the world’s largest floating docks and the biggest in Russia. Built in Sweden in 1980 on order from the Soviet Navy, it is 330 meters long and 67 meters wide and has a lifting capacity of 80,000 tonnes. The floating dock has an area of 22.1 sq. km, which is slightly less than Moscow’s Red Square.

Syria and the Ship of Shame

The Admiral Kuznetsov gained notoriety in Britain when then Secretary of Defense Michael Fallon dubbed it the “ship of shame” in 2017 when it passed through waters close to the English coast on its way back from the Mediterranean belching black smoke.

Intended to support and defend strategic missile-carrying submarines, surface ships, and naval missile-carrying aircraft of the Russian Navy, the Admiral Kuznetsov’s main fixed-wing aircraft is the multi-role Sukhoi Su-33. The Sukhoi Su-33 can perform air superiority, fleet defence and air support missions, and can also be used for direct fire support of amphibious assault, reconnaissance and placement of naval mines. The carrier also carries the Kamov Ka-27 and Kamov Ka-27S helicopters for anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, and small transport.

During her Mediterranean deployment off Syria, aircraft from Admiral Kuznetsov carried out 420 combat missions, striking 1,252 targets.

Sources: various sources.

Image: Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, 2012).