For the Russian nuclear freighter “Sevmorput”, this Antarctic season is one to forget. The ship, loaded with construction material for the new planned Antarctic station “Vostok”, had lost a propeller blade somewhere along the west coast of Africa in October and drifted for weeks off the coast of Angola. As it was not possible to repair the damage, a second blade was removed and the ship had to be ordered back to Russia due to the damage and the delay. Now the captain also has fallen ill and had to be evacuated to Las Palmas by the Spanish authorities.
On the evening of December 16, the ship was off Fuerteventura and made a report that a medical emergency had arisen on board. Two helicopters of the Spanish sea rescue took off from Tenerife in the evening and one took the captain on board. The latter was flown to Las Palmas at around 9pm and is now being treated in hospital. According to initial information, meningitis is suspected. The ship has resumed sailing since, commanded by the first officer, The remaining 97 crew members are said to be in good health.
The appearance of the ship in the waters off the Canary Islands had caused great hectic among the Spanish authorities. Because the ship with its more than 150 kilograms of enriched uranium for its KLT-40 reactor is not a welcome guest in most ports. This was despite the fact that no problems had previously been reported with the operation of the reactor. The Spanish coastguard as well as the Moroccan authorities kept a very close watch on the vessel during the whole time. According to the Spanish media, the ship had resumed its journey after the evacuation and, instead of taking a route west of the Canary Islands in the open sea, had taken the route along a corridor between Spain and Morocco. This international route is relatively busy, but at least far from the most densely populated areas of the Canary Islands. The further route will take the ship through parts of the North Sea, the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea to reach its home port of St. Petersburg. This route has attracted already the attention of environmental organisations, which warn against allowing the ship to pass close to densely populated areas.
Originally, the “Sevmorput” was on its way to Antarctica to deliver material for the new planned Russian station “Vostok”. Due to damage to the propeller, however, the ship lay off Angola for weeks before it could be repaired to the extent that a voyage was possible again. Proper repairs in port were categorically ruled out by Angola and South Africa due to the nature of the vessel. At the same time, since the time window for a successful completion of the mission was no longer sufficient, the ship was ordered back to St. Petersburg. Arrival there is scheduled for December 31.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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