Rescue teams end efforts to find survivors on Russian submarine

MOSCOW - Rescue teams abandoned efforts Monday to find survivors in a sunken Russian submarine after determining that all 118 crew members had perished in the flooded vessel.

Norwegian and Russian officials in charge of rescue efforts concluded the submarine was completely flooded after it suffered a massive explosion and sank Aug. 12 during naval exercises in the Barents Sea.

''There was no longer hope of finding survivors in the submarine Kursk,'' said a Norwegian statement.

Norwegian divers who managed to open the escape hatch on the nuclear submarine Monday found no sign of survivors and confirmed that the Kursk was flooded, officials said.

The Russian navy said a video camera would be lowered into the hull of the Kursk to determine conditions inside. But the rescue effort was now shifting to raising the submarine, an enormous task that could take weeks or even months.

The Russian government was reluctant to announce the crew was dead and the country's main television stations all broke the news by quoting the Norwegian statement. The government has faced strong public criticism for not doing more to save the crew.

The loss of the Kursk, one of the newest and most powerful submarines in the navy, has shocked many Russians, prompting many to question if their crisis-ridden nation will ever return to peace and stability.

Russian navy officials said no decision had been made about retrieving the bodies of the Kursk's crew. There appeared to be no practical way of recovering the bodies short of raising the submarine.

Most, if not all, of the crew died when a huge explosion ripped through the submarine, officials said. The blast, which probably involved up to 30 warheads stored in the torpedo compartment at the front, tore the submarine to bits. Russian officials said they don't know what set off the explosion.

''The divers have determined that the submarine is full of water. That is sad,'' said Norwegian Capt. Rune Fredheim.

The Norwegian rescue teams would be pulled out unless government officials decide they should stay for other reasons, Fredheim said.

After a 10-day rescue operation, the Norwegian divers managed Monday to open an escape hatch at the rear of the Kursk, but found no sign of survivors, officials said. It then became clear that the submarine was flooded, they said.

A British rescue mini-submarine was not used because the divers determined there was no point, officials said.

Russian officials said they were concentrating on raising the Kursk and recovering its two nuclear reactors. The Norwegian divers found no sign of radiation leaks 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 it would take weeks just to draw up plans for the salvage operation.

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

Strong criticism continued Monday in the Russian media and among many ordinary people of the way the government 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.

''To what depths of cynicism you must sink to lie so blatantly,'' the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said Monday.

''The Kremlin has been shattered by its own cynicism,'' said Novaya Gazeta.

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, announcing aid for relatives of the lost crew.

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.


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