- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

A Russian reporter on the scene of the sunken submarine Kursk said Thursday that the 13,000-ton vessel suffered massive front-end damage before crashing to the floor of the Barents Sea in Russia's frigid north.
The British Defense Ministry, which dispatched a minisubmarine Wednesday in a belated, last-ditch effort to rescue any survivors, partly corroborated the account, saying that a "high-energy explosion" tore through the 500-foot-long attack submarine.
A Russian official who saw a video of the foundering ship spoke of a "terrifying hole" in the hull.
The additional details raised new questions about whether the Kursk's hull remains inhabitable and further dampened hopes that the 118 crewmen will be found alive. Navy spokesmen said no signs of life were detected for the second straight day after Morse code tapping picked up by sonar ceased.
A reporter for state RTR television delivered the first independent news report from aboard a salvage ship battling a two-day arctic storm in the area.
The reporter said he had viewed video scenes of the damaged hull captured by a submersible vessel.
"The submarine, we can say now, has suffered severe damage, very serious damage in the front section. Water flooded the front in a flash and the command center, I mean the hull, was destroyed in a moment," the correspondent said, according to Agence France-Presse news service.
"This is tragic news. When so much water gets into the sub, it is impossible to avoid casualties. But the rescuers still hope that there are some people alive aboard."
Speculation has centered on an explosion of one or more of the submarine's 1,000-pound torpedoes during a major Russian naval exercise on Saturday morning.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is heading the government's accident investigation, said navy analysts now believe the Kursk hit some foreign object, but not another vessel.
"We are increasingly coming to the conclusion that it was a very powerful impact, most probably from outside," AFP quoted him as saying, after he met with commanders at the Severemorsk naval base.
"There was a collision between the nuclear submarine and some other object with a large tonnage. A majority of the crew was most likely in the part of the vessel which was hit by a sudden catastrophe," Mr. Klebanov told a news conference.
"But according to navy experts and constructors [of the submarine] they should have had enough time to evacuate to safe compartments," he said.
The Kursk sank during an exercise that included five submarines firing ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and torpedoes. Two U.S. nuclear submarines monitoring the "Summer X" war games detected the sound of two underwater explosions that morning.
The Russian navy announced that a ninth attempt yesterday to rescue the men with a submersible ended, again, in failure. Spokesmen said the tethered diving bells and minisubs have been tossed back and forth in murky, swift waters as they tried the delicate mating with the Kursk's escape hatch 354 feet below the surface.
Rescuers used the Bester, Russia's front-line rescue vehicle, for the first time yesterday.
The spokesman also reported a new problem: the listing submarine is starting to slowly sink in the mud.
The British minisub LR5 is not scheduled to arrive until tomorrow night. The timing means the Kursk's crew will have spent a week inside a frigid, badly damaged hull whose oxygen supply is scarce at best. Russian spokesman say the ship has enough oxygen to sustain life until Aug. 26, roughly two weeks after the sinking but do not explain how the calculation was made.
A U.S. Navy source told The Washington Times on Wednesday that at least half the ship is flooded.
Russia has refused offers of assistance from President Clinton and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. President Vladimir Putin finally accepted British offers on Wednesday when his own navy could not carry off a rescue.
The U.S. Navy maintains two deep-water submersibles similar in scale and ability to the British LR5. It has a crew of three two pilots and a diver and can accommodate 16 survivors per trip.
Once the LR5 arrives, the crew must coordinate the operations with Russian technicians, a process that will take "hours, not days," a British spokesman said.
The LR5 has successfully rescued sailors in realistic exercises, but never in an actual accident.
The British rescheduled for today a drill whereby an LR5 hatch ring will be tested on an Oscar II-class sub, like the Kursk, near Murmansk.
Russian navy and government officials have provided conflicting statements on what they think happened. At first, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, the navy commander, said the Kursk collided with a foreign vessel. Later, spokesmen dumped that theory and said an explosion in the front torpedo compartment likely caused the sinking.
The ship's two nuclear reactors are shut down. Norway, which is monitoring for any radioactive leaks, has reported none.

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