Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Russian B-39 submarine lists to port at museum in San Diego

It originally spied on American Navy ships during the cold war, but a soviet-era B-39 submarine has made its home at San Diego's Maritime Museum for the last 11-years. Early Monday morning, a museum staffer noticed the sub was listing, about 12-degrees to starboard.
By the time the sun had come up, pumps were running at full blast, evacuating water from a couple of the sub's starboard ballast tanks. Navy diver Tim Alderson was called into find out where the water was entering the old sub, not an easy task. "Right now, we're feeling around trying to find little currents where the water is getting pulled into the hole," Alderson said.
Eventually they found which hole the water had flowed into. These holes are connected to pipes that initially were used to pump water in and out of the ballast tanks. Maritime Museum President Ray Ashley showed us the holes, which are just above the water line. "It doesn't take many degrees before those things are underwater and then the tank will fill to whatever the water level is," Ashley said.
But how did the water get in there in the first place? What happened that caused the sub's starboard tanks to fill to the point where it listed? At this point, it's speculation. "We're surmising that a wake of some kind came along sometime early in the morning," Ashley said. He can't say for sure, but a Disney cruise ship docked not far from the sub's right side could have produced such a wake. Now, museum engineers are considering what to do so this doesn't happen again. "So, we're either going to blank off those holes or probably what we'll do is we'll just fill those particular tanks with foam so the water has no place to go to," Ashley said.
The sub is now closed to the public. It should re-open within the next few days. "We really have to do an internal investigation in terms of what we think the problem is you know and so we're all convening tomorrow at 10 to discuss it," Ashley said.
During the heighth of the cold war, six B-39 subs like the one in San Diego were tasked with breaking the American blockade of Cuba. All of the subs carried nuclear warheads. Five of them were discovered, ordered to surface at which point they left the area. But through declassified records, we now know the sixth one had an American aircraft carrier in its sights. The sub's captain and executive officer wanted to fire a nuclear warhead at the carrier, but the third person who had to agree to that, didn't. "He refused to do it under enormous pressure and that one guy perhaps stopped World War 3 from happening," Ashley said.
The B-39 was not damaged and it was never in any danger of sinking. It will stay here for the forseeable future, educating visitors what the cold war was like from the Soviet point of view. But eventually, when the cost of maintaining it becomes prohibitive, the museum will scuttle it off the coast, transforming it into a diving attraction, opening a new chapter for a vessel with a storied history.

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