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Arctic rescuers help out boats, tankers and want radio back at sea

June 09, 17:17 UTC+3 MURMANSK

Over the past four years the team has rescued 43 vessels, seven of them - this year

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© Northern Expeditionary Rescue Team

MURMANSK, June 9. /TASS/. The Northern expedition team of the emergency-rescue missions regularly helps out vessels in locations from Crimea to Spitsbergen - from a small fishing boat to a foreign tanker.

They are known for unique underwater missions, which even the well-experienced top-equipped Scandinavian specialists would not carry out. Sometimes the Russian rescuers have to work in ten-meter waves. And besides, their dream is to stop the silence at sea - so that fishers in the Arctic could hear radio from the mainland, the team's head Anatoly Leontyev told TASS correspondent.

Rescued team

In fact, history of this unique rescue team goes back as far as 95 years - it was organized practically at the time the port appeared in Murmansk. It used to be supervised by different authorities - from fleet managers to fishery agencies. In 2013, the team's life was close to be over. "At that time, everything was on the bottom: both the equipment and the staff," said the team's head, who took the position right in 2013, when the Russian fishery authority, Rosrybolovstvo, decided the rescue team would be a separate unit, though managed by it.

The team was literally recovered, he continued. They reanimated the old vessels and collected a team. Nowadays, the team includes 240 people, including eight divers. The team has two branches - the North-Western in Kaliningrad, which inspects vessels, and the recently established Azov-Black Sea branch, providing security for fishers in Crimea, Kerch and other cities. The headquarters are in Murmansk - from there the personnel leaves for guarding seas of the western Arctic.

Southern Purga

A vessel, carrying a typically northern name Purga (snowstorm), is on guard in Crimea now. It came there from Murmansk. And in Novorossiisk - a unique diver-rescue boat Mustang-2 is ready for a rescue mission. This vessel was made for the military, its speed limit is 45 nautical knots. "This is a quick-response boat, its task is to get to the emergency site, to save the people and then to let a rescue vessel work," the team's head said.

Small fishing boats in the Barents and Azov Seas cause big problems - usually, they are very old. Though they go to sea for only two-three days, accidents are not rare. Recently, a boat sank right 50 meters from the shore near Yalta (Crimea). Two men sunk, and the third with hypothermia could make it to the shore. Rescuers found him as they inspected the shoreline.

"Now that the sprat season is approaching, we get ready for rescue operations," he said.

Similar problems are on the Arctic shore, too. The locals, especially from villages of the Pomors (coast-dwellers), go to the sea on anything which can remain on the water. Not so long ago, two men were taken into the open sea onboard a tiny boat. For two days they were without food or water, rowing their way to the shore until rescuers found them. When on board the rescue vessel they still could not eat or drink - they fell asleep in an instant - exhausted both physically and morally.

'That's impossible'

Once, in the Barents Sea a fishing trawler lost the course as the huge net span around the screw. The situation was special, as the vessel could not call any port - it had not passed customs clearance, and any towing to a Russian port could cost a fortune to the owner. Nor could the vessel come to a port in Norway, as the fish had been from the Russian waters, and reloading it was impossible for legal reasons. The rescue team’s divers had to work for ten days in the open sea to remove the net from the screw.

Occasions of the kind are not anything special for the rescuers. But their portfolio has operations, which are probably unique in the world - this is something, about what the team's head says: "That's impossible."

Early this year, a rescue mission for the Zhemchuzina (Pearl) trawler in the Barents Sea developed into a heroic saga. The vessel with 31 fishers onboard had engine problems in the Barents Sea 350 miles from Murmansk as nets span over the screw. On the second day, rescuers got to it and began towing the vessel, but as the distance to Murmansk was about 80 miles, in the heavy storm the rescuers had to turn fore to waves and head from the destination back into the open sea.

"We were fighting the storm for almost two weeks, as the cyclone would not leave the area, and we were right in its center, the waves were almost nine meters high, the wind - 40 m/s," the team leader said. "The trawler's captain became all grey and lost ten kilos." Any incorrect move could cost lives of both crews, but the rescuers managed to conquer the storm and bring the trawler back to the home port.

The team's officials asked the regional authorities to reward the rescuers, but the authorities thought differently: the heroes deserve awards from the country’s government, and now they are preparing necessary paperwork to have four rescuers rewarded at the state level.

Another unique mission, the team's head continued, was rescue of the Sebeks vessel, which hit stones not far from Teriberka. Rescuers managed to evacuate all the eight fishers and also to ease the vessel, which seemed impossible to do - divers inspected the vessel, all damage to the bottom was fixed on the spot, and then the vessel was towed to the port. And some time later, the rescuers saved another vessel, which ran aground near the shore. The crew managed to make it to the shore - to an old meteorology station. But there were no roads from there, and the rescuers had to come to the rocky shore to take the people onboard.

Fickle neighbors

The rescuers are preparing for a new stage in their work. Authorities consider opening a rescue base on Spitsbergen. "There are dozens Russian fishing vessels in the area, and thus rescuers must be there," the team's leader said. The team had visited the archipelago to see how the base could be organized there. Now, they are expecting a final decision from the Russian government. The history has certain shades, and the main one is the not evident, though stable counteraction from Norway, which would not want bigger Russian presence on the archipelago. Sometimes even rather weird things happen. A couple of years ago, Norway refused a Russian trawler’s sailor any medical assistance when he broke the leg, though he was not far from their shore. Russian rescuers got to the vessel, evacuated the man to Murmansk and his leg was saved.

Less than a year passed after that case when a Norwegian tanker asked for help. Russian rescuers helped them out, taking the vessel to the port. By the way, the team over recent four years has rescued 43 vessels, seven of them - this year already.

Stop the silence

Besides having a base on Spitsbergen, the rescuers plan something different. They want to have radio broadcast back to the fishing areas. "Back in the Soviet times, fishers could listen to the radio from the mainland, and later on this was called unreasonable and costly, though silence at sea depresses greatly," the team's leader said. Right, it is not cheap, but the expenses are worthy. Imagine fishers, who are cut off civilization for months. The Internet is not available anywhere - the reason is in the specifics of the high latitudes and the high prices on satellite communication.

The elderly

As for the rescuers, their major problem is the age of rescue vessels they use and … of the people in the team. While the first problem is settled by high-quality maintenance which keeps in superb conditions the vessels which are 25-30 years old; the problem of human resources is more complicated. The average age in the team is 57. "The youth would not go to work in the sea, and this problem is not only of our team," he continued. As yet, the team members are way ahead of any young people. The older rescuer, head of the divers, Igor Kats, goes into the water even at his age of 78. He is a former military, participated in many missions, including the one to search for the Novorossiisk cruiser. The colleagues respect him greatly.

Such people are not exceptional in the team. Some of them have awards, like the team's head Anatoly Leontyev, who only a few days earlier was awarded with a silver medal For Achievements in Development of Fishery - this medal means hundreds of saved lives, as well as dozens saved vessels. Though, he says, "no vessel, no cargo may cost even one human life, which is always the priority."

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