Russian sub ‘could stop oil leak’

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Russian-built submersibles would be able to cap the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the captain of one of the vessels has said.

The skipper was speaking as two of the subs – which can dive to 6,000m – started a campaign of exploration at the bottom of Lake Baikal in Siberia.

He added that there was still time for the subs to help BP with the disaster.

The subs are searching for gas hydrates – a potential alternative fuel source – on the bed of Baikal.

Yevgenii Chernyaev told BBC News that the problem had to be addressed at the highest level.

Two oval-shaped submersibles have recently started their third season of exploration in Baikal – the world’s deepest lake.

Oil has been leaking from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico since a BP-operated drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and sank in April.

And though BP says it is now able to gather some 10,000 barrels of oil a day, using a device that siphons oil up to surface ships, thousands of barrels of oil continue to gush daily from the ocean floor.

The US administration has already called the leak the biggest environmental catastrophe in the country’s history.

Mr Chernyaev said that his team had held numerous discussions about the oil spill in the Gulf and the Russians would be ready to come to the rescue – but only if everything was done properly.

Standing on a barge that transports the two subs after their submersion, the Mir-2 captain underlined that the subs were probably the only deep-sea vessels in the world capable of stopping the leak.

“Our subs are unique. There are two of them and they can submerge and work simultaneously. Also, they are powerful enough to work with any other additional equipment.

“There are only four vessels in the world that can go down to 6,000m – the Mirs, French Nautile and Japanese Shinkai. The Mirs are known to be the best, and we have a very experienced team of specialists,” he said.

But Mr Chernyaev added that such an operation would have a chance of succeeding only if BP or the US government asked the Russian government to join efforts to stop the leak.

“It should all be decided on the government level. Asking [Anatoly] Sagalevich [of Russia’s Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, which owns the subs] to simply bring the Mirs over is nonsense. Even though we’re able to go to much greater depths than where the damaged well is located, we wouldn’t be able to do much on our own.

“We need a team of international specialists and we have to know all the details and probably even build a special device to attach to the subs, and all this needs time,” said Mr Chernyaev.

He explained that the subs had already worked in much harsher conditions, such as the Arctic.

The submersible’s pilot also said that the Russians were very surprised that BP and the US government had not asked them for help from the beginning.

“And we would not refuse to help, even though for us it would be very complicated, especially right now, when we’re already working on Baikal. But it doesn’t look like anyone seriously wants our help,” he added.