DATE=8/20/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA SUB 3RD UPDATE (L) NUMBER=2-265671 BYLINE=LAURIE KASSMAN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Norwegian divers are trying to open the hatch of the stranded Russian nuclear submarine while rescue teams on the surface of the Barents Sea consider the next move. The Kursk plunged to the bottom of the sea more than a week ago with 118 sailors trapped on board. Correspondent Laurie Kassman reports from Moscow there are contradictory reports on the progress of the rescue operation. TEXT: Russian officials say the escape hatch of the Kursk is too badly damaged for a mini-submarine to dock with it. But Norwegian officials contradict that report. A spokesman for the Norwegian military says the hatch is not so damaged and probably could be opened fairly easily. He also denied Russian reports that a man had been found inside the air lock below the hatch. The Norwegian divers are said to have detected air inside the outer hatch of the emergency exit. Russian state T-V earlier had reported the escape hatch was filled with water. With all the conflicting information about the condition of the hatch, it is not clear what the next step will be. The Norwegian team is expected to try to pry open the hatch to get into the air lock so they can check meters there that could indicate if there is any air pressure in the submarine's compartments. It is not clear what role a British mini-submarine, which arrived at the accident site Saturday, will have in the next phase of the rescue operation. Russian officials had said early Sunday the mini-submarine, like Russian submersibles, would not be able to dock with the Kursk because of the extent of the submarine's damage. But, Norwegian officials have contradicted that report as well. Since news of the accident broke last Monday, conflicting reports have frustrated relatives of the submarine's crew and the media, which has been trying to piece together information about what happened to the Kursk. Public anger has increased over the government's handling of the disaster and President Vladimir Putin's early silence. The Russian leader did not make a public statement on the disaster until Wednesday, some four days after the accident, when he also accepted foreign offers of help. Now Mr. Putin says the rescue operation will continue, in his words, to the last moment, even though hopes of finding any survivors are fading fast. (Signed) NEB/LK/KBK 20-Aug-2000 15:30 PM EDT (20-Aug-2000 1930 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .