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Albania to sell Soviet-made submarines for scrap

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania will sell for scrap two of its four submarines which it kept after breaking with the Soviet Union in 1961 in an effort to keep them from sinking, a defence spokesman said on Thursday.

Moscow set up a submarine base in Albania in the 1950s, basing 12 subs near Vlore where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet.

After Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha deemed that the Soviet Union had gone soft on the true ideals of Communism, the two countries parted ways.

Albania kept four of Moscow’s Whiskey-class submarines in what the regime glorified as the victory of a small nation over a revisionist predator after a standoff with the Soviet navy.

“We are afraid they might plunge deeper and sink. That is why we are selling them,” Defence Ministry spokesman Mentor Beqa said. “One has already sunk.”

The project to either sell them or send them to a museum originated after 1997 when crowds vandalized the submarines to take away copper to sell during the anarchy caused by the collapse of fraudulent pyramid schemes.

The boats are rusty and non-functioning, Beqa said. “We are considering keeping the remaining one for the museum,” he added.

In a movie based on a novel by writer Ismail Kadare, current Defence Minister Arben Imami plays a soldier that guards the submarine with his Kalashnikov.

The last scene shows the Soviets leaving Albanian waters with their submarines under the watchful muzzle of a cannon. The Soviet submarine base at Pashaliman prompted NATO to deploy missiles in neighbouring Greece.

The subs, built in 1956, each weigh each around 1,200 metric tonnes minus what was stolen in 1997.

“They were quite advanced submarines at the time. The whole theatre of the Mediterranean was their area of action from 1956 to 1980,” a former submarine commander told Reuters, preferring not to be named. The missions were secret, he added.

The decision to sell them for scrap coincides with the arrival of the first submarine of a NATO country to Albania, which became a NATO member last year. Albania is scraping its old equipment to upgrade to NATO standards.

Editing by Adam Tanner