Divers recover more bodies from sunken Russian submarine

Sunday, October 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MURMANSK, Russia (AP) _ Russian and Norwegian divers on Sunday recovered several more bodies from the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, the navy said.

The divers worked through the night inside the eighth and ninth compartments of the submarine, searching for more of the 118 men killed when the Kursk was shattered by an explosion and sank on Aug. 12. Several of the sailors were found and retrieved, said Vadim Serga, the Northern Fleet spokesman.

The number of bodies and their identities remained unclear, he said, apparently because the remains were badly damaged. Four other bodies had already been pulled out Wednesday.

The divers struggled Saturday to cut a hole through the hull above the Kursk's ninth compartment, at the very stern of the submarine, but the thick rubber and steel would not yield, Serga said. Divers were forced to enter through a hole they had cut earlier in the eighth compartment and grope their way back into the ninth compartment through silt concealing jagged edges of mangled metal inside the Kursk.

After days of heavy winds and snowfall, skies over the Arctic rescue site cleared enough this weekend to allow helicopters to bring the four bodies recovered Wednesday to the town of Severomorsk for a mourning ceremony.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, speaking at the service where caskets containing the remains of the four were placed atop armored personnel carriers, said the cause of the disaster must be found to avoid any repetition of the sinking. He said the Kursk crew was the best in Russia's submarine fleet.

``The crew loved the Motherland, the sea and the fleet. They inherited the best of the navy's traditions,'' Sergeyev said. ``They understood the need to serve their country and carried out their duty. Forgive us and farewell.''

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said the remains of all the crew members would be recovered and the submarine itself will be raised from the floor of the Barents Sea.

He said the cause of the sinking will be found, and the families of the crew will be the first to know.

Many Russians have questioned the need for the risky, expensive recovery effort. It has revived the emotional debate over how Russian authorities handled the accident, including the two-day delay in announcing the accident and longer wait before accepting foreign help in the failed rescue attempt.

``Maybe they shouldn't have retrieved the bodies,'' Russian Orthodox priest Daniil Topolev, who served the first liturgy for the Kursk sailors after the accident, said Saturday. ``You can compare this to as if people have been already buried, and then uncovered again.''

Officials had found a note in the pocket of one of the recovered submariners saying that 23 sailors had remained trapped alive in the ninth compartment for at least several hours after the powerful explosions that sank the submarine Aug. 12.

Topolev, speaking on the grounds of his small church in the Barents port of Murmansk, near Severomorsk, said the fact that some of the sailors did not die immediately was significant in Orthodox tradition.

``They had time to repent. That's already good. Those who died at once, maybe they had time to cross themselves and say: Lord, save us. And those who remained, could repent,'' he said.

The cause of the disaster has not been determined. Russian officials have focused on the theory that the blasts were set off by a collision with another, possibly foreign, ship. But others have said the most likely cause was a torpedo exploding in its tube.