Kursk Recovery Postponed Until Fall

Sunday, March 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) — An attempt to raise the Russian nuclear submarine that sank in the Barents Sea last year has been postponed from summer to autumn because of funding difficulties, an official said Sunday.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said the operation to raise the Kursk, where the bodies of many of the 118 sailors who died are still entombed, will begin in early fall instead of July or August, the Interfax news agency reported.

Klebanov said there was a delay in the signing of a contract between Rubin, the Russian concern that designed the submarine and will lead efforts to raise it, and a group of Dutch and Norwegian companies that plan to participate.

The Russian government is supposed to pay part of the mission's costs, estimated at $70 million, with the Kursk Foundation, an international fund-raising group based in Brussels, Belgium, paying the rest.

Klebanov said if the foundation ``fails to raise the necessary funds, it will have to be made up from the Russian budget.''

Last week, he had said that the plan to raise the submarine this summer still stood.

The Kursk sank Aug. 12 during naval exercises off Russia's northern coast, killing all 118 men aboard. Russian and Norwegian divers who entered the badly damaged Kursk last fall recovered the bodies of only 12 crewmen.

The plan is to use cranes to raise the 14,000-ton vessel from its resting place on the sea bed about 350 feet deep and tow it to the Russian port of Murmansk under a giant barge.

Russian officials have said that the Kursk's nuclear reactors were automatically shut down when it sank and would remain safe for at least 10 years, but that the ship should be lifted to avert any potential danger to the area's rich fishing grounds.

The government has not determined the cause of the disaster, saying it could have been triggered by an internal malfunction, a collision with a foreign submarine or a World War II mine. Most Russian and foreign experts believe that the explosion of a practice torpedo was the most probable cause.