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No Survivors on Russian Submarine

August 21, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ Norwegian divers determined Monday that a Russian nuclear submarine lying on the bottom of the sea was flooded and there was no chance of finding any survivors, an official said.

Norwegian spokesman Capt. Rune Fredheim said that meant the rescue effort was over and nothing further could be done after a 10-day operation to try to recover survivors from the wrecked submarine.

``The divers have determined that the submarine is full of water. That is sad,″ he said.

``That in practice means the rescue effort is over,″ he added.

There was no immediate reaction from Russian officials directing the rescue effort in the Barents Sea where the nuclear submarine Kursk was lost with 118 men during naval exercises on Aug. 12. The submarine was shattered by an enormous explosion.

The Norwegian divers managed Monday to open an escape hatch at the rear of the Kursk, but found no sign of any survivors.

Further checks indicated the entire submarine was flooded, Fredheim said.

The Norwegians managed to lever the escape hatch open with a tool after working for more than 24 hours, officials said. An inner hatch was then slightly opened, but it became clear that the whole submarine was flooded, they said.

Rescue officials said there were no plans to deploy a British rescue mini-submarine which was standing by on a ship at the rescue scene. The divers had determined the British vessel could do nothing, they said.

Russian officials had said earlier Monday that the emphasis of the rescue operation was turning to ways to bring up the Kursk and recovering its two nuclear reactors. The Norwegian divers found no sign of radiation leaks on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Moscow would make an international appeal for funds to raise the Kursk because of the enormous expense. He indicated the salvage operation could take weeks just to draw up plans.

``Not a single country on its own can handle such an operation,″ he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The rescue operation continued Monday to be surrounded by conflicting reports from Russian and Western officials. The Russians had insisted for days that the escape hatch could not be opened, but the Norwegians had said they were confident of success and refused to give up.

Strong criticism continued in the Russian media and among many ordinary people of the way the government has handled the rescue operation. Moscow initially refused to accept Western aid and gave contradictory reports, claiming for days that it was in touch with the crew only to later back down.

Much of the criticism centered on President Vladimir Putin because he did not interrupt his summer vacation and return to Moscow when the disaster broke. The president, looking tired and under pressure, has been trying to show that he is now playing a major role, saying rescue efforts would continue until the last moment.

New details continued to emerge of how severely the Kursk was damaged when it sank during naval exercises with reports from the sea bottom that large parts of the hull were literally ripped apart.

RTR television showed film Sunday of one diver grabbing a shattered fragment of the hull, about the size of a loaf of bread, and showing it to the camera.

The Kursk’s hull is built of very strong steel so that it can operate far below the surface. The hull would have contained the explosion that ripped through the submarine, making damage inside even worse, according to analysts.

``Water almost instantly flooded the submarine’s hull up to the fifth or sixth compartments. The crew in those sections died almost instantaneously and the submarine became uncontrollable,″ Klebanov said.

Klebanov said Sunday that a Second World War mine or a collision with a foreign submarine were possible scenarios. The U.S. and British navies, which often have submarines in the area, denied their vessels were involved.

A probable scenario was that a torpedo in the Kursk’s forward compartment exploded, setting off a much bigger explosion. U.S. and Norwegian authorities detected two explosions in the area at the time the Kursk was lost.

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