The LOKh fire-extinguisher system having been engaged without authorisation led to the death of 20 people, including 17 civilian trial-crew specialists. Another 38 people received varying levels of harm to their health...
The accident on the Nerpa (K-152), built to be leased to the Indian navy, took place on 8 November 2008 during trial runs of the submarine in the Sea of Japan along the Primorye coastline. The LOKh fire-extinguisher system having been engaged without authorisation led to the death of 20 people, including 17 civilian trial-crew specialists. Another 38 people received varying levels of harm to their health.
The investigation named Dmitry Grobov, the bilge operator and a petty officer as the being directly responsible for the accident; Grobov for some reason switched the LOKh system on. He is now charged with part 3 of article 109 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Negligence, as a result of the improper performance of one’s duties, leading to the death of two or more people) and part 2 of article 118 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (inflicting severe physical harm). Lavrentyev was charged with administrative abuse leading to inflicting severe consequences: death by negligence of two or more people (clause v of part 3 of article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). This charge stems from his guiding the submarine without the properly trained crew. The indictment on 30 March was approved by the military prosecutor for the Pacific Fleet and was sent to the Fleet’s military tribunal to be considered on its merits. Hearings closed to the public in the case have been going on since June before a jury.
Lavrentyev claimed his innocence from the very beginning. Grobov, however, has made things more difficult: during the investigation, he admitted his guilt, but then during the trial he recanted and said that he did not press any buttons on the controller. Grobov explained that his original testimony was the result of pressure by the investigators (Sergei Bondar, Lavrentyev’s attorney, revealed this). The submarine commander assumes that a software malfunction caused the fire-extinguishing system to turn on. Moreover, a number of military experts believe that the crew’s meticulous action helped to avoid even more causalities, keeping in mind that 208 people were on board. Moreover, an inspection established that the submarine’s fire-extinguishing system did not contain Freon, as it should, but rather a mixture of Freon and a poisonous, but cheaper tetrachlorethylene, which is what cause people to suffocate. In other words, the people who filled the system with the wrong kind of gas should be tried, and not Lavrentyev and Grobov, the fall guys.
The latest news proves that something is up with the Pacific Fleet’s fire-extinguishing mixture, even after the Nerpa tragedy. A criminal case has just been sent to court against the head of the Pacific Fleet’s chemical laboratory for technical management, Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Dityatyev, charged with trying to receive a bribe for committing knowingly illegal actions. The investigation believes that samples of Freon 114B2, a fire-extinguishing mixture, were given to the Pacific Fleet’s chemical laboratory from one of the ships. An analysis showed that “the indicated mixture does not correspond to the needed requirements”. The acting commander of the ship, however, proposed Dityatyev to ignore these discrepancies (should they have been discovered, the ship would have been prohibited from sailing) for a small fee: 10,000 roubles and a grocery basket. If someone were to claim that something similar did not take place before the Nerpa went to sea, then where did the tetrachlorethylene come from that killed 20 people?
As for the Nerpa itself, its lease to India has been rescheduled a few times already. Since December 2009 the submarine has been in the Russian navy’s fleet. It is hard to believe that the accident did not have anything to do with this. No one, either, can say when the Nerpa will be renamed the Chakra.