Russia’s only aircraft carrier catches fire during repairs… again

Admiral Kuznetsov docked
IvtI 09 / Wikipedia

The Russian Navy’s only aircraft carrier, ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’, has caught fire once again, according to Russian state media.  

A small fire erupted inside the ship as it was undergoing repairs at a drydock in Murmansk. The fire was quickly extinguished, Russian state news service TASS reports. However, the fire did not result in any damage or casualties, the head of the country’s United Shipbuilding Corporation Alexei Rakhmanov was quoted as saying by newspaper Kommersant.  

The fire started during repair work in a cabin on Kuznetsov’s port side, Kommersant added. 

Everlasting repairs 

The ship is currently undergoing a major overhaul, which began in 2017 following Kuznetsov’s return from the Syrian campaign. 

Intended to extend the ship’s service life by 25 years, the repairs were expected to have been finished by 2020 or 2021. However, repair work was extended due to a number of reasons, including the ship’s involvement in several accidents. 

Initially the overhaul deadline was delayed to 2023. It was announced that the ship’s electric equipment, flight deck, ski jump, and engines would be replaced.  

Shortly after the announcement, the ship’s return to service was further delayed to 2024 due to the detection of major defects during the repairs.  

Russian media reported that Kuznetsov was scheduled to leave its purpose-built drydock in December 2022, while unconfirmed reports indicated that the fire erupted during the removal process. 

A string of accidents

Several serious accidents occurred during Kuznetsov’s repairs and led to the Russian Navy not having an active aircraft carrier for almost half a decade.  

In October 2018, shortly after the repairs began, the ship was damaged after Russia’s biggest floating drydock – the PD-50 – sank. One of its cranes crashed into Kuznetsov’s deck, killing two workers and leaving a 19-square-meter (200 square feet) hole. 

Then, in December 2019, a major fire broke out in the ship during welding operations. Three workers perished in the fire with an additional six injured, and the ship sustained significant damage. 

This was the second major fire onboard Kuznetsov. A previous blaze occurred in 2009 when the ship was anchored off the coast of Turkey. 

In 2021 Russian media reported that the director of the shipyard where Kuznetsov is undergoing repairs was arrested and accused of embezzling more than $0.5 billion allocated to the repair work.  

The last of the line

The ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ was commissioned in 1990 as the flagship of the Soviet Navy and the first ship of Kuznetsov class. 

Officially designated as a heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser, it was designed to carry up to 24 aircraft, primarily Sukhoi Su-33 and MiG-29K fighter jets. 

It was the only carrier of its class ever completed in the Soviet Union, and the only one to remain in the Russian Navy after decommissioning of its Kiev-class aircraft carriers. 

One unfinished Kuznetsov-class ship was sold to China, becoming the Liaoning, the Chinese Navy’s first aircraft carrier.  

Shandong, the first Chinese home-built carrier, is also sometimes classified as Kuznetsov-class, as it bears heavy resemblance and was likely based on the Liaoning. 

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