Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More of the same (sort of)

It is now Tuesday evening in the Okhotsk Sea area, well after the time when the crisis should have been over and all the ships extracted. Instead, the news is virtually the same as it was yesterday .

The Krasin (pictured) and the Admiral Makarov are still attempting to lead the Bereg Nadezhdy fish carrier out of the ice, the sole difference being that they are reported to be half way to freedom. Monitored by an Emergencies Ministry helicopter – which suggests, at least, that the storm conditions might have abated - this is painfully slow progress. But it is at least progress, if we are to believe what we are told.

The Western media are largely ignoring the operation, the latest being a barely informative report from the UPI agency, giving no hint of the underlying drama.

Should the Bereg Nadezhdy be safely extracted – and neither the Russian authorities nor their media now seem keen to speculated when - it will have taken the combined efforts of the region's two largest icebreakers to get a 13,000-ton ship to safety. (The largest, nuclear icebreakers, are of course, over in the West, their precise whereabouts unknown to us.)

The icebreakers on station will then have to plough back into the ice, which at this time of year – and at the prevailing temperatures, as low as -23°C - is expanding faster than a man can walk. They then have to pull out a 32,000-ton giant, in circumstances that have never been tried before, in an attempt to save over 340 crewmen.

If this is not a drama worth reporting, then nothing is, but then there are so many more important things to write about.

UPDATES: The Voice of Russia is reporting that the Bereg Nadezhdy has been towed "to a safe place" and that the rescue operation has "entered the final, most complicated stage" - the extraction of the Sodruzhestvo.

This, according to Novosti, represents a significant change in strategy. The Bereg Nadezhdy has not been towed clear of the ice. Rather she has been moved to a safer place and "parked", saving time for the icebreakers, which can now turn back earlier than they would otherwise have been able, to reach the Sodruzhestvo.

That they are having to do so suggests an element of urgency, which could mean that the bigger ship is at risk of breaking up. The plan now is to re-unite the factory ship with the fish carrier and then the four vessels will move toward clear waters in a single-file convoy. No timescale has been given.

Voice of Russia meantime notes that "it is for the first time in the last few years that the Tatar Strait has frozen to the bottom ... the ice field is continuously enlarging. It was 25 miles wide only recently, while now the field's width makes up 45 miles".

Just another normal winter, it would seem, with global warming rampant.