Case | HBS Case Collection | January 2014 (Revised August 2014)

The Kursk Submarine Rescue Mission

by Anette Mikes


The Kursk, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine sank in the relatively shallow waters of the Barents Sea in August 2000, during a naval exercise. Numerous survivors were reported to be awaiting rescue, and within a week, an international rescue party gathered at the scene, which had possessed between them all that was needed for a successful rescue. Yet they failed to save anybody. Based on the recollections and daily situational reports of Commodore David Russell, who headed the Royal Navy's rescue mission, the case explores how and why this failure—a classic coordination failure—occurred. The Kursk rescue mission also illustrates the challenges of pluralistic risk and disaster management, and asks students to consider how to bring about solutions in the face of pluralistic risk issues, such as the depletion of natural resources and many other disasters, when multiple parties with competing and often conflicting values and expertise have to learn to coordinate and establish a virtual, well-aligned organization.

Keywords: Risk Management; Moral Sensibility; Leadership; Organizational Structure; Crisis Management; Failure; Cooperation; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues; Norway; United Kingdom; Russia;


Mikes, Anette. "The Kursk Submarine Rescue Mission." Harvard Business School Case 114-046, January 2014. (Revised August 2014.)