Monday, January 10, 2011

Tar baby

The worse it seems to get with the Okhotsk Sea crisis, the less information we seem to get. But the latest bulletin (already some hours old) tells us that the Krasin has begun a rescue operation to release the Bereg Nadezhdy fish carrier and the Admiral Makarov icebreaker.

This is almost "tar baby" territory, where one ship gets stuck, another goes into to get it, and it gets stuck as well, with another then sent in after it. Then we are offered stock photographs (above), bearing no relation to reality, showing cheery scenes of icebreakers leading ships through the ice – which is precisely not what is happening,

The agency TASS, as always, is trying to put a gloss on it, advising us that Bereg Nadezhdy will "possibly be freed by Tuesday morning", presumably relying in short memories. The Bereg Nadezhdy was supposed to be freed Saturday, and the Sodruzhestvo was going to be brought out today.

What now seems to be going on is that the Krasin has been cutting its way to the zone of loose ice. Earlier, both the Krasin and the Admiral Makarov had coupled to pull out the Bereg Nadezhdy (type pictured above), but they only managed to cover the distance of 1.5 miles. With the Krasin now leading, the Admiral Makarov has the fish carrier under tow. The convoy has to cover 35 to 40 miles to the zone of loose ice before it can get free, sailing at a speed of one to three knots.

There is still much talk of the difficulties in extracting the Sodruzhestvo, with its 28 metre beam, which makes one wonder whether the public is being prepared for eventual failure of the mission. The weather conditions are still described as "adverse", with high winds and with temperatures having fallen to -23°C.

One report has two Mi-8 helicopters monitoring the rescue effort from the air, which is interesting. These are medium-lift helicopters, carrying up to 34 passengers (more in an emergency) and are not the type equipping icebreakers – which will more usually have the smaller Mi-2 or the Kamov-32. The Mi-8s, therefore, might be on standby for an evacuation, with the Russians preparing for the worst.

There is also some question of whether the Makarov needs to refuel, which could add complications to an already complex situation, although - presumably - it can take off stocks from Sodruzhestvo, which is the support ship for the trawler fleet in the area and should, thus, have supplies available.