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Nuclear icebreaker repeats 1977 voyage to North Pole

August 13, 2017, 13:20 UTC+3 MURMANSK

Participants of the polar voyage are expected to return to Murmansk on August 23

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MURMANSK, August 13. /TASS/. The 50 Let Pobedy (50th Anniversary of Victory) nuclear icebreaker on Sunday will make a memorial voyage to the North Pole, repeating the Arktika (Arctic) icebreaker’s expedition of 1977, when a surface vessel reached the pole for the first time.

"The nuclear icebreaker will leave Murmansk on Sunday to head for the North Pole, thus repeating the route of the Arktika icebreaker, the first in history surface vessel, which reached the geographic point of the North Pole on August 17, 1977," the voyage’s head, Director General of the nuclear fleet authority, Atomflot, Vyacheslav Ruksha said. The voyage is devoted to the 40th anniversary of the expedition.

The official hoped the voyage would be as important as the voyage of the Arktika icebreaker. The historic voyage was under command of Captain Yuri Kuchiyev.

"The Kuchiyev’s voyage in 1977 solved the task of year-round navigation along the Northern Sea Route’ western part," he said. "Now the country is facing the task of making a similar progress in the Eastern Arctic."

Year-round navigation

"Russia should be able to get into the global LNG market," the official continued. For that, it is necessary not only to produce and process the material, but also to deliver it to customers. Russia’s about 80-90% of potential clients are in the Pacific Region. Novatek may by 2019-2020 build up the LNG production to the projected 16.5 million tonnes.

"LNG should be transported by sea," he said. "Thus, we need the year-round navigation along the entire Northern Sea Route."

The task is realistic in case of having 10-12 icebreakers, he said, adding now "building the icebreaker fleet continues as planned."

Surface vessel exploring the Arctic

The Arktika’s voyage to the North Pole was on August 9-22, 1977. "It was for the first time in history that a surface vessel reached the North Pole, thus the crew got prepared for a year drift, they took tractors on board," Viktor Boyarsky said. The decision was to approach the pole from the East, from the Novosibirsk Islands, suing the natural ice drift direction.

At the pole at that time the ice situation was much different from what we have now, he continued - the heavy many-years’ ice. "At the last passage, the icebreaker moved in pushes. While nowadays getting to the Pole may be scheduled - not great ice there," he said. Boyarsky organizes from the mid-1990s tours to the North Pole for foreign visitors.

"On August 17, 1977, sailors of the nuclear icebreaker fleet made the dream of many people come true - it was for the first time a surface vessel reached the North Pole’s geographic point," Ruksha said. "From that moment, the Arctic navigation gained new opportunities."

On the ice, the sailors installed a ten-meter mast, and the Arktika’s Captain Yuri Kuchiyev (1919-2005) fixed on it a pole of Georgy Sedov’s expedition. Under the ice, the sailors placed a capsule with text of the Soviet anthem and the 1997 draft constitution. An exact copy of that capsule is exhibited at the Museum of Arctic and Antarctic.

Following route of Captain Grey

The museum also keeps the pole of Georgy Sedov’s expedition - the object, which unites in one story the three polar expeditions - the pre-revolution voyage of Georgy Sedov, the Soviet voyage of the Arktika in 1977 and the expedition, which departs on Sunday on board the 50 Let Pobedy nuclear icebreaker.

"40 years ago, Captain Yuri Kuchiyev took it from the museum to fulfil Sedov’s dream - to reach the North Pole. It is almost like in Alexander Grin’s novel (a novel about Captain Grey). Sedov did not make it, he died in 1914, and Kuchiyev did and brought to the pole this object of Sedov’s expedition," the museum’s Director Maria Dukalskaya said.

"This year’s organizers of the expedition also asked to take the pole from the exposition, but I had to refuse the request," she said, explaining the object requires special temperature and humidity regime, which cannot be guaranteed during an expedition.

Arktika’s first captain

"He was a Titan. Impeccably honest, decent, a highest-class professional, extremely strict to himself. People of the kind are surrounded with love and appreciation," Viktor Boyarsky said. In 2006, after the captain passed away, the urn with his ashes was laid on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, like he had wished.

"I participated in the ceremony," Boyarsky continued. "We come to the pole onboard the Yamal and lay two urns under the ice - of Yuri Kuchiyev and of his wife."

Second in Command Officer of the 50 Let Pobedy nuclear icebreaker Andrei Gorban knows about Yuri Kuchiyev only from books. "The voyage, which we devote to the 40th anniversary of Captain Kuchiyev’s getting to the North Pole for me would be about the 28th trip to the pole. No doubt, it is always most complicated for those who are the first, as they go to the unknown, and then, later on, the route becomes smooth," he said, adding recent years getting to the pole is not that complicated as the ice is not as strong as it used to be.

Conference program

On board the 50 Let Pobedy, a conference will be devoted to Captain Kuchiyev, the participants will also discuss future of the Arktika icebreaker, which, according to the plan, would be cut into pieces in 2021. The vessel was made in 1975, and its exploitation stopped in 2008. "We still have time. We shall continue trying to make this unique vessel a museum, not scrap metal," Boyarsky said, adding the conference "will discuss it for sure."

The Arktika nuclear icebreaker was the first icebreaker of a new series. Later on, the Baltiisky plant in Leningrad - St. Petersburg made another five icebreakers of the project: Sibir (1977), Rossiya (1985), Soviet Union (1989), Yamal (1992), and 50 Let Pobedy (2007).

Participants of the polar voyage are expected to return to Murmansk on August 23.

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