Divers shift search for bodies in sunken submarine

MOSCOW - Divers tried to cut their way into living quarters of the sunken Kursk nuclear submarine Friday, but rising winds and snow forced a temporary halt to their efforts to recover bodies, a navy official said.

Winds gusting to 45 mph on the Barents Sea above the Arctic Circle made continued operations dangerous, said Igor Babenko, head of the Northern Fleet's press center. He said divers risk being jerked about on tethers leading to their mother ship, Regalia.

Earlier Friday, Russian and Norwegian divers moved their search for bodies toward less damaged areas of the vessel after failing to enter a shattered forward compartment.

''We hope to find more crew remains in the fourth compartment, which served as living quarters for the crew,'' Northern Fleet spokesman Capt. Vadim Serga said. The compartment held bunks, a kitchen and a room for meetings and social activity.

Divers had cut through the outer hull of the fourth compartment overnight and were working on cutting into a thicker inner hull, Serga said.

Twelve bodies have been recovered so far from the submarine, which sank on Aug. 12, killing all 118 men on board. Friday was the 15th day of the delicate operation to recover remains of the dead.

At least 23 sailors survived the initial explosion in the submarine's stern, a letter found on the body of one of the dead sailors indicated. Of the 12 bodies recovered, eight had been identified as of Friday.

On Thursday, Russia's Navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, barred divers from entering the third compartment after a remote video camera showed extensive internal damage. The divers risked puncturing their bulky pressure suits or cutting their air hoses if they ventured inside the compartment, which held delicate navigation instruments and the periscope.

''The survey by video cameras couldn't immediately answer the question whether any bodies could be found in the third compartment,'' Serga said Friday.

Russian media have speculated that the divers were actually trying to retrieve secret codes and sensitive equipment. The Navy has denied the allegation.

The cause of the Kursk's sinking remains unknown. Russian officials favor the theory that a collision with a foreign submarine set off the powerful blasts. But others have said the most likely reason was a torpedo exploding in its tube because of a technical malfunction.

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