Kursk recovery bid could be cancelled

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The Independent Online

Russian navy officials are considering canceling a risky diving operation to retrieve bodies from the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk, as high waves buffet the divers' mother ship on the Barents Sea.

Russian navy officials are considering canceling a risky diving operation to retrieve bodies from the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk, as high waves buffet the divers' mother ship on the Barents Sea.

Operators hoisted the Russian and Norwegian divers to the surface as high winds pounded their mother ship Regalia, threatening to jerk divers around on their tethers. Divers have worked in shifts around the clock for 17 days, with previous pauses because of harsh weather.

The divers have retrieved only 12 bodies of the 118 crew members killed when the Kursk exploded and sank on August 12 this year.

The painstaking work to remove debris and search for bodies in the submarine's fourth compartment was halted Tuesday. Before surfacing, divers welded a metal plate over the hole they had cut in the compartment, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Faced with worsening weather, navy officials met Tuesday to consider canceling the operation altogether, North Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky said. They discussed raising the Regalia's anchor and sailing for the ship's native Norway by late Tuesday, he said.

Divers faced mounting challenges and risks if the operation were to continue, he said.

The divers had worked two days to remove jagged debris from the upper deck of the fourth compartment, yet could only move two meters (6 feet) along a single passageway, and no remains were found.

On the surface, winds increased to 15-18 meters per second (32-38 miles per hour), rocking the Regalia, and rain and wet snow swirled around the ship.

Navy officials had cautioned that only a fraction of the crew members' bodies might be retrieved, since many were likely blown to bits by a powerful explosion. Many Russians had questioned the need for the precarious recovery operation.

All the bodies recovered so far were found in the submarine's stern, and have been identified.

At least 23 sailors survived the initial explosion in the rear of the vessel, as indicated by a letter found on the body of Lt. Dmitry Kolesnikov.

The cause of the Kursk's sinking remains unknown. Russian officials favor a 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.

A government commission investigating the sinking of the Kursk is to convene in Moscow on Wednesday, according to Russian news reports.

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