Amazing Coincidence

Anyone remember the Russian submarine Kursk (K-141)? In the year 2000, it was severely damaged by an on board explosion and sank in relatively shallow water. All hands were lost.

(And yes, I know that Wikipedia is unreliable and should not be used as a reference. But it is the best brief encapsulation of the facts that I have found on this subject.)

Within days of the disaster, both the British and Norwegian military had offered the use of their underwater rescue teams. The Russians flatly refused, even though both of the foreign teams were probably the best trained and equipped in the world for retrieving crew from a stricken submarine. This proved to be a terrible mistake on the part of Russia, as budget woes since the fall of the USSR had caused maintenance to be cut back to the point that their own specialized rescue submersibles were no longer able to do the job.

What is more, then President Vladimir Putin found himself at the center of a great deal of negative PR. On vacation when informed of the disaster, he made the decision to continue relaxing while the rescue efforts started. It wasn’t until five days after the explosion that he made a public statement about the incident, lending to the impression that he was unconcerned about the lives of fellow Russians.

The humiliation of the Russian government was complete when it came to light that they didn’t even have the means to raise the wreckage from the sea floor! Two private Dutch companies had to do the work, making the initial refusal of help all the more poignant for the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

I’m bringing up this bit of ancient history because I see some amazing parallels between the Kursk disaster, and the current problems with oil gushing from a damaged offshore well.

Most people interested in the subject already know about how President Obama went on multiple vacations, played a lot of golf and and attended many events to benefit his party, before he bothered to even travel to the Gulf for an extremely brief photo shoot.

Is this comparable to Putin’s continuing vacation when informed of the explosion on the Kursk? Not really, as it only took Putin five days to get into gear.

But it gets worse! According to this news article, the Dutch government offered to help mere days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

It seems that ships with oil skimming booms were available, as well as expertise in building sand barriers to protect delicate wetlands. But both the Obama administration and BP turned them down flat.

At least, they turned them down back then. Now that the problem has grown, not only in environment destroyed and dollars needed to be spent on a cleanup, Dutch help is most welcome.

To be fair, US maritime law prohibited Dutch ships from operating so close to our shores. The oil skimming booms owned by the Dutch government are being fitted to ships flying the American flag, a time consuming process. There was nothing keeping Dutch engineers from building sand barriers on US soil, however.

In the final analysis, the Kursk incident proved to be nothing more than a minor blip on Putin’s career. His efforts to build a stranglehold on the Russian government continued, and were so successful that he is essentially a dictator. Relaxing at a Black Sea dacha for five days while good men choked to death under the sea might have been a PR disaster, but it eventually came to nothing.

Something tells me that President Obama is hoping that the current oil spill will also fail to get him dirty.

(Hat tip to Glenn.)

16 thoughts on “Amazing Coincidence”

  1. There is a lot I don’t know about this whole incident. The original error with the decision to cut short the procedure to close the well may be the only real problem for the company. Maybe there were other safety issues. The way the Obama administration has acted is unbelievable. Bush was attacked over the Katrina damage to New Orleans, mainly because he gave a sense of levity with his incompetent appointee at the agency for federal disaster response. In fact, much of the news media account was incorrect, some it malicious.

    I wonder what will happen when a GOP Congress begins to investigate all this next year. The refusal to take measures to mitigate the damage, such as the sand berms, is incomprehensible unless it was all political trying to damage Jindal as a political rival. There is just no other explanation that I can see. The similarity with the Kursk disaster is indeed an interesting one.

  2. Michael – Here’s a point you may want to think about: Michael Brown had served at FEMA through several hurricanes in Florida, and got generally good marks for his work there, before Katrina.

    It may be that he was not up to handling Katrina, because he did not have the skills to cope with a New Orleans mayor who didn’t even try to execute his city’s plan, and a Louisiana governor who was both obstructionist and incompetent — but it isn’t obvious to me just who could have coped with that pair.

    In principle, President Bush could have violated the Constitution and taken control of the whole rescue operation quite early. And I had just that course proposed to me by a leftist. But it is hard to see how anyone, operating within the law, could have made up for the failures of the state and local authorities.

    Finally, Michael Brown was also in charge of FEMA’s activities in Mississippi, where the disaster was handled much better.

    (I have suspected for some time that we saw the attacks on Brown because he was in a bureaucratic battle with the head of Homeland Security, and Brown was losing. But I haven’t taken the time to dig up enough to prove or disprove that theory.)

  3. To be fair, US maritime law prohibited Dutch ships from operating so close to our shores

    Jeezum crow, who cares? “Maritime law” is not a law of nature; it does nothing by itself to prevent a Dutch ship from sailing where it pleases and deploying a boom where it pleases, and were this crisis happening in an ideal world surely all parties could agree to quietly look the other way while the job gets done.

    …Of course, in our world that wouldn’t happen. This endless legalism even in the face of the apocalypse is strangling our country.

  4. The legalism is astonishing. Why couldn’t the Administration and Congress agree to suspend regulations that, for example, absurdly require environmental-impact studies before berms could be built? They should have suspended all environmental regulations, suspended the federal minimum wage in the Gulf, etc., etc.

  5. As Jim Miller pointed out, Bush did live (and his reputation died) because he respected a true, historical, constitutional distinction.

  6. 535 questions need to be asked of our Senators and Congressmen, “would you have voted to permit Dutch ships to operate on an emergency basis closer to shore than normal in order to help save the environment”. I don’t care what party you are, there’s really no constituency for delaying the use of this equipment over a flagging regulation and thus I would expect the overwhelming majority to say of course they would have. And that puts the ball square in Obama’s court again. Why wouldn’t he have simply requested a quick waiver be granted on a one time basis? Even as legalism, this sucks.

  7. The Jones Act:

    The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261) is a United States Federal statute that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.

    Section 27, also known as the Jones Act, deals with cabotage (i.e., coastal shipping) and requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. The purpose of the law is to support the U.S. merchant marine industry, but agricultural interests generally oppose it because, they contend, it raises the cost of shipping their goods, making them less competitive with foreign sources. [1]

    In addition, amendments to the Jones Act, known as the Cargo Preference Act (P.L. 83-644), provide permanent legislation for the transportation of waterborne cargoes in U.S.-flag vessels.

    IIRC, this was one of those unholy alliances between big companies (waterborne shipping was big business back then) and unions. Certainly the maintenance of it all this decades was.

    I’m interested in why a boom ship/boat would be classified as shipping? I mean if a Dutch ship entered US waters to perform an emergency rescue would that be considered “shipping”? Some government lawyer needs to be bitch slapped.

  8. This neatly illustrates what I was saying earlier about the difference between dictatorial authoritarianism and true leadership.

  9. They could have reflagged the Dutch ships as American “for the duration.” We do this all the time so the US Navy can protect shipping in some hot spot without pesky jurisdictional questions.

  10. The Hussein Administration, a/k/a the Insane Clown Posse, really does not know the difference between their @$$#013$ and their elbows.

  11. I’d be surprised if the Jones Act didn’t include a national security exception that could have been invoked. And as Shannon points out, it’s not clear that it applies anyhow, given that the proposed mission didn’t involve the transport of good. Failing both of the above, a temporary exception could have been presented to Congress on an urgent basis, and if properly positioned and marketed, it would have passed rapidly.

    Obama and his staff probably fell into traps very common among inexperienced project managers, failing to understand the need for alternative approaches in case something doesn’t work or someone’s analysis is wrong, and failing to initiate activities with adequate allowance for leadtime.

  12. A Maine company that make oil-containment booms went into maximum-production mode when the spill began, under the impression that someone might want their product. They’ve been unable to find anyone either in the government or in BP who was interested.

    I knew about this situation at least 2 days ago, as did most people who follow the oil spill on blogs. The admiral in charge of the government’s efforts apparently did not.

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