Russian officials have now acknowledged that the October 29 accident involving Russia’s only aircraft carrier and largest floating dry dock has made continuing the refit of the ship impossible. The dry dock, the PD-50, was the only one available capable of accommodating the 55,000 ton Admiral Kuznetsov. As a result, the completion of the refit of the ship is now delayed indefinitely.
The PD-50, built by a Swedish shipyard in 1980 for the Soviet Union, sank in an uncontrolled “launch” of the Kuznetsov and came to rest on the sloping bottom of the harbor at Murmansk. Two cranes collapsed during the sinking, with one crashing onto the Kuznetsov and leaving a large gash in its hull. And recovering and repairing the PD-50 could take as long as a year.
“We have alternatives actually for all the ships except for Admiral Kuznetsov,” United Ship-Building Corporation Chief Executive Alexei Rakhmanov told TASS. But the loss of the PD-50 dock “creates certain inconveniences” for future repairs on large capital ships, he acknowledged. “We hope that the issue of the docking of first-rank ships will be resolved in the near future. We are also preparing several alternatives, about which we will report to the Industry and Trade Ministry,” Rakhmanov said.
The Kuznetsov and its sister ship—which eventually became China’s first aircraft carrier—were built at the Black Sea Shipyard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, which also built the nuclear cruiser Kirov. (The Kuznetsov was designated as an “aircraft-carrying cruiser” as a workaround to restrictions of the Montreux Convention, which prohibits Russia from sending aircraft carriers over 15,000 tons through the Turkish Straits.) Understandably, getting help from Ukraine may not be an option for Russia. But the other options—including towing the Kuznetsov to a foreign shipyard with the capacity to dry-dock the 1,001-foot (305 meter) vessel—are equally iffy.