It was nearly 5 years ago that the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea. Ironic that only a week before the 5th anniversary of that sinking the Russians would have a rescue sub much like the ones that attempted to save the Kursk crew sink near Kamchatka.
And while the conflicting reports and contradictory statements coming out of Moscow are reminiscent of the 2000 disaster, one notable thing is different.
This time the Russians set aside pride and asked for help. And help is on the way...we can only hope it's in time.
I remember back in 2000 I was on shore duty here in Pearl Harbor. The military members of my shop at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard were mainly submariners (we had a couple of nuke "skimmers"), and we did work exclusively on subs, so even the civilians (some former submariners) had an appreciation for what boats were like. We followed the story as it unfolded, as tense and anxious as if they were our own sailors down there below the icy Barents Sea.
In fact, I remember one lively discussion in which a junior crewman on one of the boats we were doing work on quite callously asked "why should we care...they're Russians, not Americans." I think he was rather surprised when all of us, the two yard sailors and four of his crewmates, all said (nearly in unison) "because they're submariners!"
It was something the civilians really didn't understand...sure, they were concerned, and thought it was terrible what had happened to the crew. But even they were a bit puzzled when SubPac held a memorial for the lost Kursk sailors at the Parche memorial on SubBase Pearl.
None of us were. We knew why.
I've learned from talking with submariners from other navies that despite all the differences of culture, language, and nationality we're all pretty similar, us submariners. I felt as at home telling sea stories with British submariners as I did with Aussies and with Japanese (the language did pose some challenges there), and even with Canadian and Korean. Subs seem to attract the same "type" the world over. I'm sure it's fairly similar in Russia. We all tend to border on "prima donna" as far as seeing ourselves a cut or three above the "regular" Navy (and rightly so, of course), we all tend to be disdainful of abject stupidity, the "stupid shall be punished" mindset springs eternal, and the staunch militaristic formality of the skimmer world is pretty much universally left behind when the "plug is pulled".
So it's no surprise all of us fish-wearing sailors were at the Parche that late summer day in 2000 to hear "Big Al" speak of the common bonds of all submariners. There were few dry eyes in the group.
So it's that memory that comes to the top today, hearing of the accident and the rescue effort that is underway. I'm glad Russia asked for help so soon this time...I only hope it makes a difference.