Rescue team confirms 'worst expectations'

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The Independent Online

The international rescue attempt to save lives on board the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk collapsed yesterday as a team of British and Norwegian divers finally forced their way inside the shattered hull.

The international rescue attempt to save lives on board the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk collapsed yesterday as a team of British and Norwegian divers finally forced their way inside the shattered hull.

In a dramatic joint statement, ending more than a week of uncertainty, the rescuers said none of the 118 sailors had survived the accident nine days ago when an explosion sent it plunging into the sea-bed.

Suddenly the operation had turned from a rescue mission, to an attempt to retrieve bodies and salvage the submarine's nuclear reactors to prevent an environmental catastrophe. The last hopes that any sailor had survived in an air pocket ended yesterdayafternoon when a Norwegian diver lifted an escape hatch and the found the hull filled with water.

A Russian spokesman said one body had been found near the hatch and the divers were trying to retrieve it. He said the other bodies would probably remain on board the Kursk until it can be towed into shallow water.

"Our worst expectations are confirmed," said Admiral Mikhail Motsak, chief of staff of Russia's Northern Fleet. "All sections of the submarine are totally flooded and not a single member of the crew remains alive." A Norwegian statement said bluntly: "There is no longer any hope of finding survivors."

The loss of the Kursk is the worst accident in Russia since the Chernobyl nuclear power station blew up in 1986, and the slowness of the government to call in foreign aid has been heavily criticised by Russians.

The speed with which the diving team from a Norwegian firm specialising in the repair of North Sea oil rigs was able to get into the Kursk, after Russian mini-submarines had failed, has underlined the ineffectiveness of the Russian navy's rescue effort.

After a meeting with Russian commanders Rear-Admiral Einar Skorgen, the head of the Norwegian mission, said: "They have concluded that the rescue mission should be terminated." The Norwegians said the Russians had asked them to retrieve the corpses, but they believed their diving suits were too bulky to fit the escape hatch tunnel.

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