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NATO Exercise Helps Russian Rescue

NATO Exercise Helps Russian Rescue

Source: NATO, Brussels, August 7, 2005.

The United Kingdom team that helped rescue seven Russian sailors from a stricken submarine on 7 August said a recent NATO exercise had provided valuable practice for the operation.

During the rescue, the UK Royal Navy’s Scorpio 45, a remote-controlled mini-sub, spent five hours cutting fishing nets and cables that had trapped the Russian submarine at a depth of 190 meters, off the Kamchatka peninsula.

Previous rescue attempts had failed and, after three days underwater, the seven-member Russian crew was beginning to run low on oxygen and suffer from exposure to low temperatures.

  • Practising for real-life emergencies

Just several weeks earlier, the Scorpio and its team had been put to extensive use during a two-week NATO submarine rescue exercise in the Mediterranean, Sorbet Royal 2005.

The exercise, held from 17 to 30 June, simulated the rescue of over 200 sailors trapped in ‘sunken submarines’ on the bottom of the Mediterranean. Rescue personnel and equipment from 14 countries took part in the exercise.

“The success of such operations depends a great deal on the skill of the pilot in maneuvering the Scorpio underwater,” said Neil Hopkins, a member of the UK Submarine Escape and Rescue Project, “During Sorbet Royal the Scorpio was in the water for two weeks, carrying out complicated tasks day in and day out.”

  • Knowledge is key

The rescue operation also benefited from work done by the NATO-led Submarine Escape and Rescue Working Group (SMERWG), which facilitates the exchange of information on available rescue techniques and equipment.

The Group, of which Russia is a member, has established an International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO) in Norfolk, Virginia, United States. This office runs a database through which information on accidents and offers of assistance from across the globe are channeled.

As a result, the UK team had full access to the specifications of the stricken Russian submarine, and therefore knew what equipment would be needed to run a successful operation.

“Knowing the specifications and having the right gear in place is essential in what is a race against time,” said Commander Gavin Short, a submarine expert in NATO’s International Military Staff.“At the same time, the Russian authorities knew that the UK had the right equipment for the job.”

The Alliance is currently developing several other submarine rescue initiatives, including a study on submarine rescue interoperability and the development of a NATO Submarine Rescue System.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).