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Heroic crew gave their lives to save others during sub disaster

Project 210 or AS-12 (Russian: АС-12), nicknamed Losharik, is a Russian deep-diving submarine. “АС” stands for “Атомная Станция” from the official Russian naval term “атомная глубоководная станция”, “nuclear deepwater station”.

The pressure hull of the submarine is believed to be formed from up to seven interconnected spherical elements; this provides limited space for living quarters and equipment but grants significant structural strength.

The vessel is powered by a nuclear reactor and is believed to operate at a depth of thousands of metres due to the unique spherical construction, although the exact operational depth is unknown.

It is known to have operated at about 2,000–2,500 metres (6,600–8,200 ft) depth in the Arctic Ocean in 2012 and is capable of being carried by a modified Delta III-class submarine (a retrofitted ballistic missile submarine that can act as a “mothership” for minisubs and other small vessels).

The vessel has been described as a “spy submarine” that could possibly be used to tap into or sever underwater telecommunications cables. Russia has released little information about it officially and there are few photographs of it; the clearest is believed to have been taken inadvertently during a Top Gear Russia photo-shoot in Arkhangelsk.

A fire broke out on the vessel on 1 July 2019, while it was taking underwater measurements of the sea floor in Russia’s northern territorial waters, the defence ministry said.

Fourteen of the crew were killed by inhalation of smoke or toxic fumes. Seven of those who died held the rank of first rank captain and two were recipients of the Hero of the Russian Federation award. Submarine commander Denis Dolonsky was among those killed.

The fire broke out at around 8:30 p.m. and was extinguished by the crew. The vessel was later towed to the Russian Northern Fleet base at Severomorsk where five survivors were hospitalized with smoke poisoning and concussion. The commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, and President Vladimir Putin sent Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to monitor the investigation and report on the incident.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu shared some details of the crew’s conduct:

“The crew acted heroically in a critical situation. They evacuated a civilian from the compartment, which was engulfed in flames, and sealed the door behind him in order to avoid the spreading of the fire onto the rest of the vessel,” he said.

The incident happened somewhere within Russia’s territorial waters in the Barents Sea. The officials said that the research vessel was mapping the seabed, but did not reveal the vessel’s name and gave little details of what had happened on board.

The sailors died from inhaling poisonous gas as a result of the fire, the ministry said. Russian officials did not say what caused the blaze, although they did say the vessel was performing bathymetric measurements in a study of the ocean floor.

  • 1600 tonnes (surfaced)
  • 2100 tonnes (submerged)
Length: 60 m or 70 m (unconfirmed)
Propulsion: 1 nuclear reactor E-17
Complement: 25 (estimated), all officers


Header: A rendering of Losharik (AS-12) submersible relationship with a so-called mother submarine used with permission. H I Sutton Image