Monday, July 09, 2007

Experts complete survey of Russian sunken submarine


July 09, 2007

MOSCOW - Russian and foreign experts have finished monitoring radiation levels at the site of a 2003 incident involving a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, the Russian Northern Fleet press service said Monday.

The K-159, a November class nuclear submarine with 800 kilograms (about 1,700 pounds) of spent nuclear fuel onboard, sank in 2003 while being towed to Polyarny, in northwest Russia, for decommissioning. Nine members of the 10-man crew died.

The radiation levels, according to preliminary monitoring results, are normal and pose no threat to the environment, the press service said.

Vladimir Vysotsky, the commander of the Northern Fleet, said a decision on whether to raise the submarine will be made after six weeks or two months, when the monitoring data has been completely studied and analyzed.

Subject to technical feasibility, Russia has committed itself to recovering the submarine and safely disposing of its reactors as part of an international agreement set up to assist with the safe disposal of Russian nuclear waste material.

The operation is being carried out under a joint project developed by Russia, Britain, the U.S. and Norway within the framework of the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation agreement (AMEC), signed in September 1996.

The Russian Navy has been hit by several accidents involving submarines. The worst of these occurred August 12, 2000, when the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank following an onboard torpedo explosion, killing all 118 crewmembers.

In August 2005, the Priz AS-28 mini-sub with seven submariners onboard became entangled in a fishing net at a depth of about 190 meters (about 620 feet) in the Berezovaya Bay in the Bering Sea.

A rescue mission was successfully mounted after three days with the help of the British Scorpio 45, an unmanned deepsea rescue vehicle.


Riddle of a Confederate Submarine

By Joe McClain
July 09, 2007

In its brief career, the H.L. Hunley was a success and a failure. Now, years after its resurrection, the Confederate submarine is a mystery and a research project.

The Hunley was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy vessel. On a quiet February night in 1864--six years before Jules Verne's fictional 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea--the Hunley rammed a spar into the stern area, planting a torpedo into the hull of the USS Housatonic, one of the Union ships blockading Charleston harbor. The Hunley's crew reversed its crank drive, backing away from the Housatonic before detonating the torpedo, sinking the Housatonic. The Hunley surfaced to send a "mission accomplished" signal, but like Verne's Nautilus, the Hunley didn't come back.

William and Mary geology student Jason Lunze is no Captain Nemo, but shipwrecks have always fascinated him. As a kid, he would walk the beach near his grandparents' home on Mobjack Bay and pick up Colonial-era pipe stems and other artifacts. His interest in the Confederate submarine dates back to grade school.

"I was aware of the Hunley probably since I was about six years old," Jason said. "One of my first grade school teachers had noticed my interest in shipwrecks and lent me one of his personal books. At that time they were still looking for the Confederate submarine. I thought it rather fascinating but I never thought they would actually find it; it is rather a small article to find lost in a rather large ocean."

"Where" Becomes "Why"
Not only was the Hunley found, in 1995; it also was recovered. In fact, the Hunley is on public display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, South Carolina. If you want to see the Hunley, you'll have to go on a Saturday, because during the week, archaeologists are working to preserve the Hunley and to solve the remaining mystery-why did it sink?

"The H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel, but it was lost shortly thereafter," Jason said. "It was somewhat of a technological marvel of its day, and that can be emphasized by the secrecy in which it was moved from Mobile to Charleston. A special train car was constructed to conceal its identity during its entire journey."

Not all the work on the Hunley is being done in Charleston. Jason Lunze is adding pieces to the solution of the mystery from the College of William and Mary. A geology major and marine archaeology buff, Jason got involved through Rowan Lockwood of William and Mary's geology department, who put him in touch with M. Scott Harris of Costal Carolina University, a William and Mary alumnus who has a record of collaborating with faculty at his alma mater. Harris is temporarily reassigned, working on the Hunley team.

Jason thought work involving the sedimentation of the Hunley might make a good geology project, but Harris told him there was no suitable sedimentation work. "But he had a project on the formation of rusticles within the submarine, and I said that I'd love to work on the project," Jason said.

Bacterial Condos
Scientific examination of the bacterial colonies that create rusticles--and the minerals produced by the bacteria--can provide insight into a number of conditions, present and past, in sunken iron vessels. Jason received five rusticles removed from the sub's interior.

"The samples that I collected from the H.L. Hunley are dead colonies," Jason said. "The submarine was in-filled with sediment, which stopped their growth. This gives us a good view of what the inside conditions were like before the sediment in-fill completely killed off the colonies."

He has been using a variety of nondestructive analytical techniques to examine his rusticles. He has worked with Bob Pike of William and Mary's chemistry department, but does the majority of his work in the Surface Characterization Lab in the Applied Research Center. Jason keeps his rusticles wet, to avoid oxidation. In fact, the entire Hunley hull is kept under water in a preservation tank.

"The samples have to be dry in order to run the analytical techniques," Jason explained. "So I have to dry them out first." The drying process involves placing a rusticle sample in a desiccating vacuum chamber, adding argon gas, which helps the process by displacing air.

Jason, who expects to graduate in 2008, will be busy on rusticle tests for the next four to six months. He will write up his findings in a senior thesis and hopes to have a paper accepted into a peer-reviewed journal. He characterizes his work as "a small brick in the wall of knowledge" on the H.L. Hunley that ultimately may solve the mystery of the innovative warship that accomplished its mission, but didn't come back.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Soviet WWII sub wreck found in Baltic Sea


July 03, 2007

STOCKHOLM - A Finnish-Swedish search team has found the wreck of a Soviet submarine sunk by the Finnish navy in the Baltic Sea during World War II.

The Soviet SC305 was fired on and rammed by a Finnish submarine in November 1942, sending it to the bottom in Swedish territorial waters off the island of Aland.

"SC305 went down with the bow into the mud and is in a good shape considering the circumstances," the search party said in a statement. "The origin of the wreck and its marking was verified by film from an ROV (remotely operated vehicle)."

The Soviet submarine, one of many used to prowl shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea during the war, was found at a depth of 136 meters (446 feet). All the 38 crew members were reported lost when submarine sank.

Bjorn Rosenlof, a spokesman for the privately funded team, said it first located the wreck last year using leads to the position found in Finnish archives, but only managed to identify it after returning to get more images two weeks ago.

"When we got the ROV in just right and could read the letters (the submarine's insignia) it was just an incredible feeling that can't be described in words," he told Reuters.

They were not able to dive to the wreck as it was too deep.

The team said it considered the site a war memorial and had only given the exact position of the wreck to Swedish authorities, leaving it to them to decide if the information should be published.

The Baltic Sea is littered with wrecks from both World Wars which saw Russian and Soviet forces battled the German navy for control of the transport routes across it.