Naval captain charged over failure of Russia's efforts to save submariners

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The Independent Online

A Russian naval captain has been accused of scuppering Moscow's attempts to rescue seven sailors trapped in a mini-submarine for 76 hours through incompetence and negligence.

The purported bungling of the captain, who has not been named, meant that Russia had to turn to Britain for help, which was difficult to accept for the still proud but enfeebled Russian military.

The AS-28 Priz submersible was saved on 7 August after becoming snagged on fishing nets and an underwater surveillance system in waters off Russia's Far East. It was trapped for 76 hours and the seven sailors reportedly wrote farewell notes in the expectation they would die.

A Royal Navy team used an underwater robot to cut the submarine free. Russia had its own underwater robot, nicknamed Venom, but this could not be used, for reasons that at the time were unclear.

Russia's naval chief of staff, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, has now admitted that the Russian rescue team tried to deploy Venom at the accident site, "but when they started to use it, they used it incorrectly - it was damaged by our people".

Prosecutors allege that the Venom's breakdown meant the rescue operation cost an additional 10 million roubles (£195,000). A criminal case has now been opened by military prosecutors against the naval captain. He commanded the Georgy Kozmin, which was one of 10 ships dispatched by Russia's Pacific Fleet to try to save the submersible.

Prosecutors claimed he was guilty of gross negligence. "During the rescue operation the captain's unprofessional actions damaged expensive equipment - the underwater Venom vehicle," they said in a statement.

The Venom's incapacity was particularly galling for Russia since it had been purchased after the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000 in which 118 sailors died. It was supposed to ensure that Russia would never again find itself powerless in the face of a submarine accident.