By Frank T. Csongos
The United States had offered to help Russia in a rescue effort to save the lives of more than 100 crew members trapped in a crippled nuclear submarine. The sub plunged to the bottom of Barents Sea in a naval exercises during the weekend. RFE/RL's correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 16 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it stands ready to provide help in the rescue of a crippled Russian nuclear submarine trapped on the bottom of the Barents Sea with more than 100 crew members on board.
But Defense Department spokesman Craig Quigley said Tuesday that even if the Russians accepted assistance, there were no guarantees for success because the American equipment may not be compatible with the Russian sub.
Quigley told reporters that Defense Secretary William Cohen made the offer to help in a message to Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev. Quigley said the U.S. had no response from Moscow as of mid-day Tuesday.
It was the second such U.S. offer in two days. White House national security adviser Sandy Berger brought up the matter of U.S. assistance in a telephone conversation Monday with his Russian counterpart.
Quigley said the Russian response was cordial and appreciative but that Berger was told there was no need for U.S. help at this time.
"They are fully aware of our willingness to provide help, but they feel that they got the assets on hand now that they need to do the job as they see it. And we stand ready to do what we can if that request comes."
U.S. experts said whatever sank the submarine Kursk, which was designed to withstand a torpedo attack with its double-layer hall, had to be massive.
John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists said the 13,900-ton submarine was designed to be hard to sink.
George Sviatov, a submarine architect with the Soviet Navy for 29 years and now a defense consultant based in Washington, agreed. He said the incident suggests "catastrophic damage and considerable casualties."
Russian officials initially suggested that the submarine was involved in a collision, perhaps with a foreign ship or submarine. Quigley said categorically there were no American vessels involved in the accident.
Quigley said the U.S. Navy was making preparations for a possible rescue mission in case the Russians changed their minds.
"The deep submergence rescue vehicle assets that the U.S. Navy has are located at North Island Naval Air Station in the San Diego (California) metro area. The folks there are very much aware of the accident with the Russian submarine, of course. They have taken prudent measures to make sure they can account for their folks, they're doing an inventory of equipment, they are making sure everything is as prepared as it can be."
Still, Quigley said it is unclear whether an American deep submergence recovery vehicle would fit the hatch of the Russian sub. He said some years ago there was a notice provided by the United States to various navies in the world, advising how they needed to construct escape hatches to make them compatible with U.S. rescue vehicle.
Quigley said it is not known to the U.S. if the Russians or other navies had taken the advice into consideration.
As to what caused the accident, Quigley said the Russians may not yet be in a position to know with certainty. In addition to a collision, reports ranged from a misfired torpedo inside the sub to hitting a World War II era sea mine.
Quigley also said that had this accident occurred during the Soviet era, the West would not have learned about it from Moscow. The Russians are much more forthcoming these days, he said, although a lot of the information remains contradictory.