MOSCOW - Marking the 40th day of grieving, a Russian Orthodox tradition, relatives of the sailors who died on a sunken submarine mourned their loss Wednesday and questioned why the government plans to risk more lives recovering the bodies.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered an operation to retrieve the remains of 118 crewmen who died when the nuclear submarine Kursk was shattered by a massive explosion Aug. 12.
But many who gathered for mourning services said they opposed the idea, saying the bodies should be left in the submarine, 350 feet below the Barents Sea, until authorities try to raise the vessel next year.
''At this time ... the main thing is how to protect people's lives from additional risk, which the divers would be exposed to,'' said naval cadet Dmitry Bagryantsev, whose father, Capt. Vladimir Bagryantsev, was among the crew.
''Why risk additional tragedies? Why deprive those divers' families of fathers, as happened in this case?'' Bagryantsev said on state-run RTR television.
But Gleb Lyachin, son of the Kursk's commander, Capt. Gennady Lyachin, disagreed.
''I want them to do this as soon as possible. Everything should be done out of respect for the dead,'' said Lyachin, a naval cadet in St. Petersburg.
Services for the sailors were held across Russia, where Orthodox Christians traditionally mark the 40th day of bereavement.
Priests chanted liturgies on the military base of Vidyayevo, from which the Kursk set out on its last voyage. Families of the seamen packed churches in the city of Kursk, for which the submarine was named and which was the hometown of many of the crew. There were also services in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Russia's Rubin military design agency and Norway's Stolt Offshore company were expected to sign an agreement Friday to begin the recovery operation next month, said Igor Spassky, head of the Rubin agency that designed the Kursk, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Stolt Offshore provided the team of divers who opened the submarine's hatch after Russian efforts failed.
Russian naval commanders and government officials say the Kursk disaster appeared to have been caused by a collision with another vessel, probably a foreign submarine, though U.S. and British officials say none of their vessels were involved. Other theories suggest a collision with a World War II mine or an explosion of one of the Kursk's own torpedoes.
After the Kursk sank, the naval command insisted for days that some of the crew could be alive, and Russian rescuers struggled to gain access to the submarine.
The government initially refused help from abroad. When Norwegian divers finally arrived and opened a hatch, they found the vessel completely flooded, with no hope of survivors.
''Forty days ago we sincerely believed in a miracle,'' the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper wrote. ''Sworn atheists recited prayers. Nothing helped.''