Russia said it had brought a blaze aboard a nuclear submarine under control yesterday by partially submerging the vessel at a naval shipyard, after hours of dousing the flames with water from helicopters and tug boats.
The submarine’s nuclear reactors had been shut down and posed no danger, officials said.
However, nine people were injured when fighting the fire and taken to hospital.
Television pictures showed a plume of black smoke above the yard in the Murmansk region of northern Russia as more than 100 firefighters struggled to put out the flames, which witnesses said rose 10m above the Yekaterinburg submarine.
“The fire has been localized,” Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu told officials leading the firefighting effort from an emergency control room in Moscow, more than nine hours after the blaze began at 2:20pm on Thursday.
Shoigu’s comments indicate the fire was still burning, but that efforts to sink the submarine partially at the dock had succeeded in reducing the intensity of the flames.
“There are no open flames. A fire crew is still at the scene pouring water over the outer hull, as well as the space between the inner and outer hulls of the submarine,” an unnamed Russian defense ministry source said.
Murmansk Governor Dmitry Dmitrienko said the submarine’s two nuclear reactors had been shut down. All weapons had been removed from the 167m long Yekaterinburg, which launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea as recently as July.
“Radiation levels are normal,” an emergencies ministry spokeswoman said.
A law enforcement source told Russian news agencies that seven servicemen at the shipyard and two emergencies ministry personnel had been injured when trying to put out the fire and had been hospitalized. Interfax reported they had suffered from the effects of smoke.
After hours of trying to put out the flames, officials decided to partially submerge the 18,200 tonne submarine at the Roslyakovo dock, one of the main dockyards of Russia’s Northern Fleet, 1,500km north of Moscow.
Local media reports were vague, but the blaze was believed to have started when wooden scaffolding caught fire during welding repairs to the submarine, which had been hoisted into a dry dock.
The submarine can carry 16 ballistic missiles, each with four warheads. Russian submarines’ reactors are built to withstand enormous shocks and high temperatures.
The Yekaterinburg is a Delta IV-class submarine. Russia’s Northern Fleet was established under the Soviet Union to watch over European waters and was armed during the Cold War against threats from NATO.
Russia’s worst post-Soviet submarine disaster occurred in August 2000 when the Kruse nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crewmen aboard.