UPDATE: As we learned from our guest author Dmitry Kiselev, damage to one of the four propeller blades occurred and forced the ship to stop involuntarily. Meanwhile, divers from Russia have removed the damaged blade and another one. This means that the ship will now continue southwards with two propeller blades and correspondingly reduced speed. But why a nuclear-powered ship is allowed to sail to Antarctica in the first place is a question that many people, including Antarctic experts, are asking themselves in the meantime. We will look further into it.
The arrival of the nuclear-powered container ship “Sevmorput” was planned for early November at the “Progress” station on the coast of Prydz Bay in Antarctica. But for the past three weeks, the “Sevmorput” has been running uncharacteristic zigzag courses in front of the Angolan city of Luanda. The “Sevmorput” can transport up to 1,324 containers and is on the way with modules and building materials for the new “Vostok” station in East Antarctica.
As the Online Platform of The Barents Observer reports, the speed was reduced on October 16. The “Sevmorput” went for a day in a zigzag course, then turned north as if she was going home. A day later, the ship moved south again at a reduced speed of 6-7 knots. The journey continued along the coast of Africa, but in the last three weeks the “Sevmorput” remained just outside the Angolan port of Luanda. She zigzags all the time at the same reduced speed.
Questions from Barents Observer to the shipping company Rosatomflot about the reasons for the atypical behaviour of the “Sevmorput” were not answered.
However, a discussion group on the social media channel Vkontakte gives an possible explanation of the critical situation in which the cargo ship is located off the Angolan coast. An employee of the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg writes: “As far as I know, there is a breakdown on the ship that divers are trying to fix. It is not clear what exactly the problem is, but he writes that something has happened with the shaft, the propellers or the associated transmission.
As the Barents Observer further reports, in addition to the “Sevmorput”, three more icebreakers are planned for trips to Antarctica; the “Kapitan Dranitsyn”, “Akademik Tryshnikov” and “Akademik Fedorov”. The latter two were due to leave St. Petersburg in October, but are still in port with the crew in COVID-19 quarantine.
The “Kapitan Dranitsyn” left Murmansk on September 27 and had joined up with the “Sevmorput” in the Atlantic on the second week of October. The icebreaker waited a few days, but soon continued his journey south. The icebreaker is currently heading east in the waters of King Hakon VII off the coast of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica.
Modules for the new “Vostok” station on board
The “Sevmorput” transports modules, building materials and heavy loads for the Russian station “Vostok”, which is located in the interior of the Antarctic continent. The modules are to be brought ashore at the Russian “Progress” station on the coast of Prydz Bay. The transport inland will be pulled by tractors on transport sleds. It is not yet possible to estimate whether the delay will have an impact on the transport and construction of the new station.
The“Vostok” station was opened on December 16, 1957 it is located in Wilkes Land in East Antarctica, about 1,287 km from the geographical South Pole. The station is supplied with food and 100-130 tons of polar diesel via an annual trek from the “Mirny” station on the coast via a snow track.
Extremely low temperatures are reached at the “Vostok” station. On 21 July 1983, the lowest meteorological air temperature was recorded at 89.2 °C. On 23 July 2004, a surface temperature of 98.6 °C was recorded by satellite measurements northwest of the research station. The data were measured by means of the MODIS infrared spectrometer on board the Terra satellite directly on the ice surface and are therefore not directly comparable with the air temperatures measured at the research station at the internationally common measuring altitude of two metres. Therefore, these measurements were not recognized as a cold record by the responsible World Meteorological Organization.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal