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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Kursk hazards and challenges
There is only a short window of opportunity to lift the Kursk nuclear submarine from the bed of the Barents Sea this year.

Click here for a guide to how the Kursk will be raised

Map of the area
It will take 10 says to reach the site
The operation must be completed by the end of September when high seas and icy winds become a major hazard.

There are other dangers too - posed by the submarine's two nuclear reactors and its load of 24 cruise missiles, not to mention unexploded torpedoes inside the vessel and on the sea floor beside it.

The lifting operation has three main stages:

  • preparing the submarine for lifting
  • fastening cables to the hull
  • raising it and carrying it to a floating dock

After arrival at the scene of the disaster, the divers' first task was to remove accumulated sand and silt from the severely damaged bow.

Lift timetable
Mid-July: divers arrive
7 August: bow cut off
End August - barge sets sail
10 September: grappling starts
Mid-September: the big lift
The next priority is cutting off the submarine's nose section. The aim is to achieve this by 7 August.

The bow is so severely damaged, that it could otherwise fall off as the submarine is lifted.

If any unexploded torpedoes lie along the cutting line, they will first have to be removed. There is also a chance that the cutting operation will cause torpedoes to shift position, creating a risk of detonation.

Everything is possible, if we take into account that we are dealing with a submarine loaded with torpedoes

Russian navy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov
The cutting operation is due to be carried out by robots, using a specially designed chain saw made from a scrapped dredger.

It is considered too unsafe to allow divers in the sea at the time.

The Russian navy plans to lift the severed nose section at a later date, as part of its effort to identify the cause of the disaster.

The operation to cut 26 70cm-diameter holes through the massive structure of the hull has also begun.

Huge cables will be attached to 26 points on the hull
Huge cables will be attached to 26 points on the hull
But this part of the plan has run into trouble. The operation commander said on 1 August that parts of the work which were supposed to be carried out by robots were having to be completed by hand.

At the end of August, or in the first days of September, an enormous barge, named Giant 4, will sail from Amsterdam.

Massive cables attached to the barge at one end, will be attached to the submarine at the 26 points where the holes were cut.

The Granit missiles are absolutely safe - all of them are in containers, which are as strong as the sub's hull

Vice-Admiral Mikhail Barskov
This grappling process is planned to begin on 10 September, with lifting beginning five or 10 days later.

In total, 23 ships will be involved in the operation, including Russian naval vessels whose goal is to ensure that prying eyes in foreign submarines do not get too close.

Radiation checks

The actual raising of the submarine - which displaces 18,300 tonnes of water - will take hydraulic lifting systems positioned along the length of the barge 12 to 15 hours to complete.

"The most risky (part) is as they lift it from the bottom, because the sea around Murmansk can be very, very rough," said an engineer with the Dutch salvage consortium, Piet Van Bruggen.

"We need to pick up some good days, and we have to be quick."

A scale model of the barge and submarine was used for laboratory tests
Scale models of the barge and submarine were used for laboratory tests
With the submarine clamped underneath it, the slow-moving barge will take a week to reach land, where a floating dock will be waiting at a port near Murmansk.

The remains of the 106 sailors still on board will then be removed. Bodies preserved in the cold waters of the Barents Sea will deteriorate quickly on contact with air.

Other important tasks will include the removal of 24 Granit cruise missiles situated in sturdy containers in the mid-section of the submarine.

Russian officials say that the Kursk's two nuclear reactors switched themselves off at the time of the disaster and represent no threat.

However, radiation levels will be monitored throughout the operation.

The Kursk submarine accident

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | Scotland
02 Jul 01 | Scotland
29 Jun 01 | Scotland
25 May 01 | Europe
15 May 01 | Europe
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