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Russia's only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov catches fire

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 22/12/2022 Nataliya Vasilyeva
The Admiral Kuznetsov undergoing repairs - VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP © VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP The Admiral Kuznetsov undergoing repairs - VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP

Russia’s only aircraft carrier caught fire on Thursday, only a matter of months before it was meant to return to sea after lengthy repairs.

The Admiral Kuznetsov was close to being released back to the Russian navy after years of repairs when it caught fire, Alexei Rakhmanov, head of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“There has been a little problem during repairs,” Mr Rakhmanov said. “The blaze has been put out. All fire alarms worked normally. There are no casualties or damage.”

About 20 people were evacuated from the ship that caught fire at the drydock in the Arctic city of Murmansk early on Thursday morning, according to the Tass news agency.

Photographs of the warship shared on social media appeared to show thick grey smoke emanating from openings on the side of the vessel.

The ill-fated aircraft carrier has suffered a series of mishaps and incidents since an extensive refit began in 2017.

Two people were killed and dozens were injured when a fire caused by sparks from welding ignited an underwater fuel tank tore through parts of the ship in 2019.

One of the world’s largest dry docks sank in 2018 at a shipyard in Russia’s far north the moment the Admiral Kuznetsov was being pulled out. Shortly afterwards, a massive crane collapsed on the deck of the carrier, leaving a hole above the waterline.

The warship was later moved to a new dock where the military accused a contractor of poor workmanship, blaming them for severe delays to repairs.

First launched in 1985, the warship played a major role in Russia’s campaign to prop up Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, in the Syrian civil war.

The Admiral Kuznetsov is notorious for the thick, putrid smoke it produces when it is underway.

Unlike most Western warships, which use gas turbines or nuclear reactors for power, the Kuznetsov runs on a highly-toxic, tar-like substance called Mazut.

The warship belched black smoke into the air as it passed through the English Channel on its way to Syria in 2016, escorted by British destroyers.

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