Hopes fade for nuclear sub crew

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Chances of rescuing a Russian nuclear submarine trapped Monday on the ocean floor above the Arctic Circle with more than 100 crewmen were not good despite extensive efforts to reach the vessel, the navy chief said.

Chances of rescuing a Russian nuclear submarine trapped Monday on the ocean floor above the Arctic Circle with more than 100 crewmen were not good despite extensive efforts to reach the vessel, the navy chief said.

Russian navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov said the submarine had apparently been involved in a major collision and sustained serious damage.

"Despite all the efforts being taken, the probability of a successful outcome from the situation with the Kursk is not very high," he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Navy officials confirmed Kuroyedov made the remarks.

The submarine plunged to the ocean floor in the Barents Sea on Sunday while taking part in a major naval exercise off Russia's northern coast.

Navy officials had insisted throughout the day Monday that conditions on the submarine were good and said nothing about a collision until the admiral's announcement that hopes of rescuing the vessel were fading.

Navy officials declined to say how far down the vessel was trapped, but a Norwegian report said the Kursk was some 150 meters (yards) down, a depth at which it would be very difficult to rescue anyone because of the enormous water pressure.

Kuroyedov also said it appeared that the submarine suffered major damage after colliding with another object, but he gave no further details. "There are signs of a big and serious collision," he said.

Russian and Western submarines sometimes play cat-and-mouse games in the area and have scraped each other in the past, according to reports. The Kursk was taking part in major naval exercises, which are closely monitored by the U.S. and other Western warships.

If the submarine was involved in a collision that ruptured its hull, there could be a chance of radioactive leaks.

Rescue ships were at the scene, trying to assist the stricken submarine. Navy officials said earlier that they were in radio contact with the submarine, but it was not clear if that was still the case.

Earlier, navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the Oscar-class submarine was not carrying any nuclear weapons and there was no immediate danger of radiation leaks or an explosion. The vessel's two nuclear reactors had been shut down, he said.

NTV television news, citing unnamed sources, reported that water gushed through the submarine's torpedo tubes during a firing exercise and flooded the front of the vessel.

Norway, which has a scientific vessel in the region, said the submarine was lying in about 150 meters (yards) of water off Russia's Kola Peninsula. Foreign Ministry spokesman Karsten Klepsvik said there was no sign of a radiation leak.

The Barents Sea is in arctic waters bordering the northwest coast of Russia and the northern tip of Norway.

In an emergency, a submarine would surface if at all possible. But Dygalo said the vessel was forced to descend to the ocean floor, indicating that the crew had lost control.

Vladimir Gundarov, a submarine specialist at Red Star, the official daily newspaper of the Russian military, said rescuing people from a submarine is very difficult and there is no set procedure. The Russian navy does not have advanced submarine rescue vessels, according to standard naval reference works.

"The situation is extremely negative," Gundarov said.

The crew may be able to use rescue capsules, but in a worst-case scenario would have to try escape by swimming out through the torpedo tubes, Gundarov said.

"It is extremely risky, but they are all trained to do this," he said.

The submarine was built in 1994 and went into service in 1995, making it one of the newest vessels in the Russian navy. It is a nuclear strategic submarine that can carry up to 24 nuclear cruise missiles, used mainly in combat with ships.

The submarine had a full crew aboard, navy officials said. The Kursk carries 107 personnel and weighs some 14,000 tons, according to Jane's Fighting Ships, an authoritative guide to warships.

Russian nuclear submarines have been involved in a string of accidents in recent decades.

In the last major accident involving one of Moscow's nuclear submarines, the Komsomolets sank in April 1989 after catching fire 210 miles north of Norway. Forty-two of the 69 Soviet sailors aboard died in the accident.

The Russian military, including the navy, is in shambles, with no regular maintenance of weapons and other equipment. Many warships do not receive the regular servicing needed to keep them seaworthy, according to navy officers and veterans.

The Izvestia newspaper reported recently that, according to the most conservative estimate, 507 submarine crew members have died during the 40-year history of Russian nuclear submarines.