Russia opens criminal investigation into navy's latest submarine mishap

An initial investigation has established violations by officials responsible for preparing and overseeing the AS-28 mini-submarine's mission, said Roman Kolbanov, the Pacific Fleet's deputy military prosecutor.

Mr Kolbanov said experts from the defence ministry, Federal Security Service and finance ministry would join naval and general staff officials in the wide-ranging investigation, which he said would range from the mini-submarine's construction to the rescue operation itself.

One of the submariners, Captain Valery Lepetyukha, said the submarine had been sent to investigate an underwater surveillance antenna that had got entangled in fishing nets. He said: "We inspected one side then the other side of the device, that is to say, we were not immediately tangled.Then we found a hanging rope and went around it. While going around it, we apparently were caught by the net. We had no light in the back."

Russia had to appeal for outside help to rescue the submarine which was 590 feet below the surface off the Pacific coast. Russian ships were able to latch on to the submarinewith a trawling apparatus, but succeeded in moving it only about 330 feet. A Scorpio remote-controlled vessel sent by Britain spent six hours cutting away the cables that ensnarled the Russian vessel and its propeller.

After breaking free, the vessel floated to the surface, and the seven men climbed out on to the deck, ending a more than three-day ordeal in frigid temperatures and with dwindling oxygen.

Newspapers in Moscow criticised the navy for failing to learn the lessons of the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000, in which all 118 crew died, by not investing sufficiently to upgrade its rescue capabilities and by not reporting the accident until the day after it happened.

Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Viktor Fyodorov said the Russian navy would buy two Scorpios. The vessels cost anywhere from £810,000 to £4m each, depending on their configuration.

But Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst, said the navy's morale and professionalism was continuing to deteriorate and that another major naval disaster was "virtually inevitable". "After the Kursk, there was also plenty of talk of improvements, but nothing really changed," he said.

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