No sign of life on stricken sub

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The Independent Online

Britain have flown a mini-submarine to Norway after Russia said there was no sign of life from the 116 submariners stranded in the Barents Sea.

Britain have flown a mini-submarine to Norway after Russia said there was no sign of life from the 116 submariners stranded in the Barents Sea.

Russian deputy prime minister Ilya Klebanov, leading an emergency commission on the disaster, said there were no signs of life aboard the grounded sub but this did not necessarily mean the crew were dead.

"There is no sign of life, but from this it is not necessary to conclude something terrible," he said, adding that the crew might be resting to conserve energy as air supplies dwindled.

Russian president Vladimir Putin called the situation on the nuclear submarine stranded on an Arctic seabed since the weekend "critical."

The British LR5 submarine, was sent from Scotland, to Vaernes Airport near Trondheim, before the Russians accepted the offer of help, in order to save time if it were called for.

Attempts to lower a piloted escape capsule to the crippled nuclear submarine 108 meters below the surface on the Barents Sea floor have so far failed.

The Russian submarine Kursk crashed to the bottom of the sea during military exercises over the weekend. Efforts to save the seamen have been hampered by harsh underwater conditions.

The Foreign Office confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Russia had asked for help through the British Embassy in Moscow. Russia had been made aware during meetings with NATO officials that the LR5 was available, the spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity. The Russians now wished Britain to proceed with the offered equipment, she said.

A group of six Russian military officers met with NATO officials in Brussels on Tuesday night to determine what kind of assistance the 19-nation Western defense alliance could provide.

Britain's LR5 is operated by a three-person crew and is capable of holding 16 passengers. It has enough life support to allow crew members to stay submerged for four and a half days.

The mini-submarine may be able to connect to the Kursk's hatch via a ring on the underside of the LR5's casing, but it was not known whether the rescue vehicle - designed to assist NATO vessels - would be compatible with the Russian vessel. A survey vessel was on standby, ready to sail for the Barents Sea. The vessel is used to clear obstacles and has life support systems on board.

Paul Beaver, spokesman for Jane's Defense Information Group, said the Royal Navy also had a 20-man submarine recovery team on the south coast ready to be flown to the Barents Sea.

Britain could parachute divers straight into the water already in their diving gear, if necessary, he said. "It's not too late, they could be there in 12 hours," Beaver said.

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