Kursk Rescue Operation To Begin

July 7, 2008 - 7:08 PM

Kiev, Ukraine (CNSNews.com) - Russian and Norwegian navies are to begin a joint operation in the Barents Sea Saturday in a bid to retrieve the remains of the crewmen of the nuclear submarine, Kursk, which sank in August.

Russian Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotskiy reported Friday that the rescue team comprises 12 Russian and six Norwegian deep-sea divers. Five vessels will be used in the operation, which is expected to cost around $5.8 million.

The weather in the Barents Sea is forecast to remain calm over the next two days, although storms predicted for Monday could delay the operation.

Earlier this month the Norwegians proposed that the operation be shelved until next summer. It would allow more time for preparations, and would also cost less to raise the bodies together with the sub, they argued.

But relatives of the crew did not approve, saying it would be better to leave the bodies and the Kursk undisturbed. In a letter to President Vladimir Putin, family members said the "sailors on Kursk faced death together carrying out their mission, and let them be together in this eternal [resting place] in the sea."

The relatives also expressed concern that the rescue operation could result in new loss of life.

The nuclear submarine sank on August 12, with 118 crewmen aboard. It is lying on the floor of the Barents Sea, about 100 meters down.

Putin and the Russian military came under fire for declining foreign offers of help for a week.

A special commission of inquiry subsequently reported that "all the crew members died immediately after the accident." This became obvious after Norwegian rescuers found water in all the parts of the sub.

Igor Dygalo, spokesman for the Russian Fleet, gave assurances there were no nuclear weapons onboard. Norwegian ecologists have also confirmed that there was no radiation leak detected at the site.

Admiral Vladimir Kurojedov, Russian fleet chief-commander, maintains that another submarine possibly caused the crash, although U.S. Navy vessels in the vicinity reported detecting explosions in the area of the accident.

Adding to the problems for Putin arising out of the Kursk incident, the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda daily published a letter by the submarine captain's wife, Irina Liachina, in which she complained to Putin about the alleged misuse of funds collected to help the relatives.

A large amount of money had been wasted on letters from the governor of Murmansk, written to a wide range of bodies thanking them for their support of the families, she claimed.

The governor, Yuri Yevdokimov, has denied the accusations.

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