Storm hampers rescue of stricken sub

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The 116 crew members of a stricken nuclear submarine lying at the bottom of the Barents Sea are alive but a storm is hampering rescue efforts, according to the Russian navy.

The 116 crew members of a stricken nuclear submarine lying at the bottom of the Barents Sea are alive but a storm is hampering rescue efforts, according to the Russian navy.

Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov reiterated a grim forecast for the rescue operation, which could be complicated by the weather and the condition of the 500-foot vessel, the Kursk.

"The prognosis for the possible consequences of the accident at the Kursk on the lives of its crew appear very grim." he told the Interfax news agency.

However Kuroyedov also said everything was ready for the crew's evacuation, which could start as soon as the storm calms.

A navy spokesman in the North Fleet headquarters said earlier that by tapping on the hull of the submarine 500 feet down on the sea bed, rescuers had determined that none of the crew members had died in Sunday's accident.

But the spokesman, contacted at the fleet's headquarters in the Arctic base of Severomorsk, said some might be injured after the crew was forced to turn off the reactor on the Kursk and let it drift to the bottom of the sea.

"We have learned through tapping (coded messages on the side of the submarine) that there are no dead among the Kursk crew, but it remains unknown whether there are casualties." he said.

Russian television suggested that oxygen supllies on board the sub would be sufficient to last a week, giving rescuers time to evacuate the crew.

But strong waves and current were preventing the navy from sending equipment down to the submarine.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kuroyedov as saying that only the huge missile cruiser Peter the Great and anti-submarine ship Admiral Chubachenko could resist the waves. The anchors of a dozen other vessels had been torn off, he said.

Moscow said it was aware the United States and Britain had offered help but had not so far decided to accept it.

The United States has two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles which can conduct rescue operations in depths of up to 2,000 feet and evacuate up to 24 crew members at a time.

Britain has put a deep search and rescue submarine on standby.

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