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Russian Nuclear Submarine Carrying 100 Crew Members Trapped On Ocean Floor

MOSCOW – A Russian nuclear submarine carrying more than 100 crew members
suffered serious damage in a major collision and was trapped Monday on the
ocean floor above the Arctic Circle, Russia’s navy chief said. He said the
chances of a rescue looked poor.

The submarine “Kursk” plunged to the floor of the Barents Sea on Sunday
while taking part in a major naval exercise off Russia’s northern coast. A
Norwegian report said the vessel was sitting in 480 feet of water.

Despite all the efforts being taken, the probability of a successful outcome
from the situation with the Kursk is not very high, – Russian navy commander
Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news
agency. Navy officials confirmed Kuroyedov made the remarks.

It was the first major crisis involving a Russian nuclear submarine in
more than a decade. In 1989, a nuclear submarine sank after catching fire,
killing 42 sailors.

Navy officials had insisted throughout the day Monday that conditions on
the Kursk were good and said nothing about a collision until the admiral’s

“It seems to be more of a calamity than the Russians are letting on,” said
Paul Beaver of Jane’s Defense Weekly, a respected London-based military
publication. “If they don’t rescue the crew within the next 48 hours I don’t
think they will survive. Things are looking pretty grim.”

The Navy declined to say how far the vessel was beneath the surface, but the
Norwegian report said the Kursk was some 480 feet down a depth at which it
would be very difficult to rescue anyone because of the enormous water

At the Pentagon, spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said the U.S. military
has not been asked to assist. Military officials said that although the U.S.
Navy has submarine rescue vessels, their hatches are compatible only with
U.S. made submarines and could not be used in this case.

Kuroyedov said it appeared that the submarine suffered major damage after
colliding with another object, but he gave no further details. “There are
signs of a big and serious collision,” he said.

Russian and Western submarines sometimes play cat-and-mouse games in the
area and have scraped each other in the past, according to reports. The
Kursk was taking part in major naval exercises, which are closely monitored
by the U.S. and other Western warships.

Pentagon officials said a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance ship was
operating in the Barents Sea at the time the Kursk broke down. The
surveillance ship, the USNS Loyal, was monitoring the Russian naval

However officials would not say whether a U.S. submarine was in the area.
Quigley would only say the Pentagon has “no indication that a U.S. vessel
was involved in this accident.”

Earlier, Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the Oscar-class submarine
was not carrying any nuclear weapons and there was no immediate danger of
radiation leaks or an explosion. The vessel’s two nuclear reactors had been
shut down, he said.

If the submarine was involved in a collision that ruptured its hull, there
could be a chance of radioactive leaks. However Norwegian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Karsten Klepsvik said there was no sign of a leak. Norway has a
scientific vessel in the region.

The Barents Sea is in arctic waters bordering the northwest coast of Russia
and the northern tip of Norway. Rescue ships were at the scene, trying to
assist the stricken submarine.

The submarine’s crew was still alive and was communicating with surface
ships “by tapping,” ITAR-Tass reported. It was not clear if that meant the
crew was using Morse Code. ITAR-Tass said the ship’s commander had not made
radio contact with Russian Northern Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov since
the accident.

The Kursk was built in 1994 and went into service in 1995, making it one of
the newest vessels in the Russian navy. It is a nuclear strategic submarine
that can carry up to 24 nuclear surface-to-surface missiles, used mainly in
combat with ships.

In an emergency, a submarine would surface if at all possible. However
Dygalo said the vessel was forced to descend to the ocean floor, indicating
that the crew had lost control.

Vladimir Gundarov, a submarine specialist at Red Star, the official daily
newspaper of the Russian military, said rescuing people from a submarine is
very difficult and there is no set procedure. The Russian navy does not have
advanced submarine rescue vessels, according to standard naval reference
works. “The situation is extremely negative,” Gundarov said.

The crew may be able to use rescue capsules, but in a worst-case scenario
would have to try escape by swimming out through the torpedo tubes, Gundarov
said. Depending on the depth to which the submarine has sunk, such an
attempt could kill the sailors.

Russian nuclear submarines have been involved in a string of accidents in
recent decades. In the last major accident involving one of Moscow’s nuclear
submarines, the Komsomolets managed to get to the surface after a major fire
broke out in April 1989, killing 42 of the 69 sailors aboard. The survivors
jumped into the water before the submarine sank to the bottom of the
Norwegian Sea, and there have been small leaks from its atomic reactor and
nuclear-armed torpedoes in recent years.

Many warships do not receive the regular servicing needed to keep them
seaworthy, according to navy officers and veterans. The Izvestia newspaper
reported recently that, the Russian military, including the navy, is in
shambles, with no regular maintenance of weapons and other equipment.

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