Russia's only aircraft carrier on fire in port while undergoing repairs

The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier passing the Norwegian island of Andoya in 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - A fire broke out on Thursday (Dec 12) on Russia's only aircraft carrier as it underwent repairs in an Artic shipyard, Russian news agencies said, with at least one worker reported missing.

The Admiral Kuznetsov has been undergoing repairs for more than two years in Murmansk and suffered previous damage in October 2018 when a crane crashed onto its deck.

State news agency RIA Novosti quoted a source in the Zvezdochka shipyard as saying the fire broke out during welding operations.

More than 400 people were on board when the fire erupted, state news agency TASS quoted a Zvezdochka spokesman as saying.

News agency Interfax reported that the fire had spread over an area of about 600 sq m.

The Admiral Kuznetsov - launched in 1985 and the flagship of the Russian navy - has been undergoing its first major repairs since 1997.

The repairs were expected to be completed by the end of 2020, with the warship rejoining the navy in 2021.

The vessel was deployed to the Mediterranean in 2016 and early 2017 to strike targets in Syria and help Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad recapture rebel-held areas in the war-torn country.

The ship headed a naval group off the Syrian coast, with fighters from the carrier hitting more than 1,200 targets during its mission.

It also stopped off the coast of Libya in January 2017 and took on board military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who Russia has reportedly backed in the country's long-running civil conflict.

The ship suffered several incidents during the mission, including the crash of a Sukhoi fighter jet into the sea after a malfunction as it tried to land on the carrier.

The repairs and upgrades - with a reported cost of up to 62 billion roubles (S$1.3 billion) - were to focus on the ship's power plant and onboard electronic systems.

Last year's collapse of the crane on the ship's deck, which killed one worker and caused major damage, raised concerns the work would be delayed and the carrier out of commission beyond the 2021 deadline.

Russia's navy has been battling problems with state financing, ageing shipyards, and delays in fulfilling orders for new ships.

In the last six years, three fires have been reported on submarines under repair.

The Admiral Kuznetsov was meant to be the first of a new fleet of Soviet aircraft carriers, but the Russian navy has struggled with a massive drop in funding since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The USSR had five aircraft carriers at the height of its power.

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