DAILY MAIL (London) August 18, 2000
Giant blast may have killed half of doomed sub's crew
MORE than half the 118 men on the crippled Russian submarine probably died
when a massive explosion sent it plunging to the bed of the Barents Sea on
Saturday, experts said last night.
And there is little chance any of the rest will survive until the British
sent to the scene can reach them.
That was the grim scenario painted by U.S.
intelligence which had been monitoring the underwater war games when the Kursk
was blown apart.
Spying devices monitored an explosion in a torpedo tube after the skipper had
been given permission to fire. This may have been a poorly maintained
torpedo battery catching fire and detonating a warhead or a torpedo overheating
At this stage there would have been no cause for alarm on board a submarine
the Russian navy liked to boast of as 'unsinkable', with its ten massive
bulkhead divisions designed to contain flooding.
But within seconds there was a far larger, devastating thunderclap as the
initial explosion spread to the torpedo stockpile,
igniting them in an horrendous blast which ripped through the hull, causing the
freezing Arctic waters to come rushing in.
A Russian navy spokesman said the sub had sunk to floor of the Barents Sea
'like a flash'.
Those who died could be viewed as the lucky ones. For the survivors, the
torment was just beginning.
The biggest threat to them would have been carbon dioxide poisoning or
exposure. The sub has equipment to clear CO2 from the air but it is thought to
have been knocked out by the explosions. 'Any survivors will not run out of
oxygen, they will suffocate due to a build up of excessive
levels of carbon dioxide,' said
John Pike, of the Federation of American Scientists.
'They have no way of getting rid of it.' There was growing concern last night
over the safety of the two nuclear reactors aboard the ship. The Russians are
adamant there is no danger, and monitoring devices controlled by Norway have
picked up any radiation leaks.
But environmentalists fear the reactors' cooling systems may have been
disabled. If that happened and the reactors kept going or were restarted, the
nuclear material inside could reach temperatures of up to 3,600 degrees and
melt their way through the water-and-steel containment vessels.
The Kremlin issued its
most sombre prognosis of the crisis yesterday.
Premier Mikhail Kasyanov said conditions on the Kursk were 'close to
The crew of the British LR5 submersible hope to have the state-of-the-art
rescue craft over the site of the Kursk, 60 miles north of the Russian port of
Murmansk, by tomorrow evening.
commanders put the most hopeful face they could on what looks like mission
Asked if anyone could still be alive, Royal Navy Commander Alan Hoskins said:
'I wouldn't use the word likely, but it's possible. We've got to be optimistic.
There's always a chance.' The Kursk
lies 350ft beneath stormy Arctic seas at an angle of not more than 20 degrees,
Russia has informed British officials.
Hoskins said the British mini-sub was able to operate in currents of 2.5
The LR5 is expected to be compatible with the Russian submarine, meaning that
pressurised link should be possible between the two vessels.
But a fear is that the sailors if alive could be too weak to open the hatch.
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to Tony Blair by telephone last night
to thank him for sending the LR5.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, who is
on holiday in Tuscany, said: 'President Putin said he and the whole Russian
people were very grateful for Britain's assistance which he said reflected the
friendly relations between the two countries.' Further Russian attempts to gain
access to the Kursk failed yesterday.
Putin faces a furore as Russia
digs the graves
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin faced a furious backlash yesterday for his
delay in calling in Western help to save the lives of his submariners.
He was accused of allowing national pride and an obsession with secrecy to
take precedence over an efficient rescue effort.
Criticism was heightened by the fact that he remained at his Black Sea holiday
retreat as the nation was engulfed by grief.
One woman shouted on a Moscow radio phone-in: 'How can he enjoy sun and sea in
Sochi while such a tragedy is unfolding. Doesn't he have
a heart?' Vera Staroseltseva, whose son Dmitry, 19, was a submariner on the
Kursk, condemned the top brass as 'bastards' for the sluggish response to the
'They should have got them out long ago,' she sobbed. 'The foreigners offered
us help straight away but they kept delaying it.' Like
many relatives, she suspects the first priority of the admirals was to rescue
the submarine and get it back to active service, rather than saving the men.
The toughest criticism for Putin came from a media which normally finds few
faults with the president.
Behind it was the feeling that he has turned the government into such a one-man rule, it becomes gridlocked in his absence.
The most damning came in Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, which declared in
bold red type: 'The sailors on the Kursk fell silent yesterday. Why has the
president been silent?' Izvestia wrote sarcastically: 'There was only one man
The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Russia. The honorary sailor.'
In a poll, 73 per cent of people called for Putin to return to Moscow and take
personal charge of the rescue.
At Severomorsk, the closed port that acts as headquarters to Russia's Northern
Fleet, there were reports that the navy had
already ordered preparation of graves for the men.
Copyright 2000 Associated Newspapers Ltd.