Soviet submarine captain wins Hollywood payout

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A Soviet submarine captain whose nuclear-powered vessel sank off the coast of Bermuda in 1986 has won substantial damages from the Hollywood studio that made a film based on the event.

A Soviet submarine captain whose nuclear-powered vessel sank off the coast of Bermuda in 1986 has won substantial damages from the Hollywood studio that made a film based on the event.

Captain Igor Britanov said the film, Hostile Waters, made in 1997, starring Rutger Hauer, Martin Sheen and Max von Sydow, did not portray the events accurately and made him look incompetent.

He also said that the makers, Warner Brothers, did not seek or secure his permission to use his story or his character. In the film, Hauer took the role of Captain Britanov, Von Sydow played a Soviet admiral and Sheen played the skipper of a US submarine.

Captain Britanov hired an American lawyer for the case and, after three years of hearings, a US court found in his favour and awarded the naval veteran significant moral damages. He is unwilling to say how much he was awarded but Russian media reported yesterday that the figure ran to tens of thousands of dollars.

The real-life incident event resulted in Captain Britanov being expelled from the Communist party and shamed the Soviet navy. His submarine, K-219, was on patrol 680 miles off the Bermuda coast when disaster struck. An explosion rocked the vessel and a fire broke out in a missile tube dangerously close to the boat's nuclear reactor. To make matters worse, the seal in a missile hatch cover failed and seawater began to leak into a missile tube reacting with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. Parts of the boat later began to fill with poison gas.

Three sailors were killed in the explosion and a fourth died after the nuclear reactor was made safe.

The Soviet Union alleged that the leak in the missile tube hatch was caused by a collision with an American submarine, USS Augusta, a claim that Washington denied.

Captain Britanov was ordered to allow the stricken submarine to be towed by a Soviet freighter back to her home port of Gadzhievo, about 4,350 miles away. But he ignored Moscow's orders and evacuated his crew to transfer to the freighter.

Moscow then stripped him of his command and ordered the crew to return to the vessel. But the submarine sank before that could happen. Some believe Captain Britanov scuttled the boat to save his crew. He was initially charged with negligence, sabotage and treason but the case was quietly dropped and his reputation was restored.

Captain Britanov said yesterday that although he was flattered to be played by Hauer, the plot was not true to real events. "A submarine with open hatches would sink to the bottom like a stone and I'm already sick of explaining to my submariner colleagues that I did nothing of the sort and that I was not a consultant on the film," he said.

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