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Russian Northern Fleet to restore unique crane to recover sunken WWII transporter

Recovering the sunken equipment is one of the most complex operations which the Northern Fleet rescuers have ever undertaken

MURMANSK, August 30. /TASS/. Russian Northern Fleet specialists intend to restore a unique self-propelled floating crane in order to retrieve equipment from the Thomas Donaldson transporter, which sank in the Arctic during World War II, Fleet Search and Rescue Operations Chief Captain 1st Rank Vladimir Gorban said on Wednesday.

This equipment was supplied to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease agreement, he noted.

"Works will be carried out this year and next year to restore the floating crane’s self-propulsion." Gorban said.

Work on recovering the sunken equipment, which the United States tried to deliver to the Soviet Union during World War II, is one of the most complex operations, which the Northern Fleet rescuers have ever undertaken. For this purpose, the Northern Fleet set up a whole ship-raising task force, which includes the KIL-143 crane ship, the Spasatel Kononenko rescue vessel and the PK-7500 floating crane.

Aboard the crane vessel, the sailors have already mastered operating its dual-scoop clamshell grab attached to the lifting crane to take hold of and unload equipment. The PK-7500 has a large scoop, which can pull up metal frameworks from a depth of 70 meters and this is what was done during the clearing-up operation of the transporter’s upper deck.

"Generally speaking, this floating crane is unique. It was previously a self-propelled machine and travelled to Novaya Zemlya (an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean) on its own. It can submerge its hook down to a 100-meter depth. The crane has a cargo site, onto which it can unload up to a thousand tonnes of cargo," Gorban said.

The recovery of artifacts is secondary although it is necessary for the Northern Fleet’s specialists, he said.

"The most important thing is to polish up the professional skills of the divers and operators of unmanned submersibles in the open sea. It is one thing to work in the gulf where conditions are quite convenient, if not comfortable, but it’s really another thing when you work in the sea where the swell can rise," he emphasized.

The US transporter Thomas Donaldson (the Liberty-class vessel) was built in 1944. It was included into one of the last Arctic convoys sent by the anti-Hitler coalition’s allies to the Soviet Union.

The transporter was sailing around Europe towards Murmansk with a batch of machinery, including a locomotive and tanks, in addition to carrying arms and munitions. A part of this cargo has already been lifted and transferred to museums. The transporter was torpedoed by a German submarine in March 1945. At present, the sunken vessel lies in the western tip of Kildin Island near the entrance to the Kola Bay. It sank at a depth of 55 meters. The Northern Fleet divers have been surveying the Thomas Donaldson transporter since 2010.