It was 1984 when Severomorsk, Russia hit the news for a horrible tragedy. A navy weapons depot caught fire and exploded, killing hundreds.
…the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the accident from travelers, then positioned satellites and electronic devices to assess the damage. Those sources said the death toll was estimated at between 200 and 300 people, many of them ordnance technicians sent into the fire caused by the explosion in a desperate by unsuccessful effort to defuse or disassemble the munitions before the exploded in a chain reaction over several hours. Officials at the State and Defense Departments, as well as diplomats and congressional officials all blamed the accident on Soviet “carelessness.”
Fast forward to 2018 and an important dry dock facility in Roslyakovo was in the news for a horrible tragedy.
There were about 60 people on the dock when it started to sink. Five of them did not manage to get in safety. One is reported dead and four injured, one with a serious condition.
It reads at first as though 2018 should get a footnote similar to 1984, since Russia has become known for fraud, carelessness and decay. Maybe there’s nothing more to this story than bad safety.
…the dry dock has itself had repeated problems with its aging technical equipment, including the electricity system…
Indeed, reports hint at negligent maintenance of the huge platform built in 1980 and possible criminal charges for the private owners of the dock (Rosneft bought in 2015 for “oil operations”).
When a power outage hit, the dock’s huge ballast tanks filled up and sank it. That’s a fail unsafe design someone must have known about for a long time, especially given unstable power.
This also, however, could end up being fertile ground for someone hunting evidence of cyber attacks.
While the simple narrative of 1984 carelessness makes sense, early 2018 also was when there were a series of electricity “hacks” on America purported to originate from Russia.
First in 2016 the U.S. warned its “military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid…for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights…”.
By the summer of 2018 the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was trying to say much of the same and prove they had breached America’s power grid:
Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities…
It was thus just a few months after a round of boasting about taking electricity offline when Russia reportedly experienced “several cases of power outage all over the [northwest] region, including in the cities of Severomorsk and Murmansk…”.
The power outages not only crippled Russia’s ability to manage its fleets by sinking a critical dock, they also damaged Russia’s only aircraft carrier (Admiral Kuznetsov, which had been serving in Syria to infamously carry out air strikes yet losing two aircraft during routine landings).
Again, it has to be emphasized Russia has earned itself a reputation for carelessness and predictable self-inflicted disasters.
Just a year after the dock sank, the same one and only aircraft carrier caught fire during repairs, blamed on a short circuit.
The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia’s TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship’s repairs, are unaccounted for.
The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents…
Nonetheless, the timing of power outages in Russia around all the boasting about hacking makes for interesting reading despite the lack of any real details or news from the cities affected.
Perhaps US Admiral Stavridis put it best in October 2016 when he quoted a Russian proverb: “Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed.”
A month later, Murmansk experienced a massive energy blackout and blamed it on a short circuit at the Kolenergo substation.
That’s the context when two years later rolling power outages hit the region, sinking the dock and crippling Russia’s navy operations.