SLUG: 2-268939 Russia / Kursk (L) DATE: NOTE NUMBER:










INTRO: The Russian Navy has halted recovery operations on the sunken nuclear submarine, the Kursk. The Norwegian offshore platform which served as a base for the operation has left the site. A special government committee is to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) in Moscow to assess the progress of recovery efforts and the cause of the accident, which sent the Kursk and its 118-member crew to the bottom of the Barents Sea on August 12th. V-O-A's Sonja Pace reports from Moscow.

TEXT: The departure of the Norwegian offshore platform was a clear signal that the 18-day recovery operation had come to an end. The move came as no surprise. Bad weather, poor visibility and dangerous working conditions inside the damaged submarine repeatedly stymied efforts by Russian and Norwegian divers to retrieve the bodies of the vessel's crew.

Earlier Tuesday, a spokesman for Russia's Northern Fleet announced that work had already been suspended in the submarine's fourth compartment. He said jagged metal edges inside the compartment could tear the divers protective suits. The spokesman said conditions were deemed too dangerous for the divers to continue to work.

Divers were able to recover only twelve bodies from the aft (eds: rear) portion of the submarine. A handwritten note found on one of the crew members showed that at least 23 people were alive for hours after the initial explosion, contradicting early statements by Russian navy officials who said that everyone on board likely perished almost instantly.

The Kursk was taking part in naval training exercises when an explosion sent the submarine and its 118-member crew to the bottom of the Barents Sea. It is still unclear what caused the accident. Russian navy commanders say the Kursk collided with a foreign, possibly an American or British, submarine. Washington and London deny any involvement. Western analysts suspect torpedoes aboard the Kursk may have misfired and exploded. (Signed)