Divers arrive at the site of the Kursk's sinking for recovery effort


Friday, October 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



MOSCOW (AP) _ British, Scandinavian and Russian divers on Friday arrived at the site where the Kursk nuclear submarine sank and began preparations for recovering the remains of its 118 crewmen, officials said.

Top Russian military officials, however, warned that safety concerns might force the Navy to call off the complex underwater work.

The divers sailed from the Norwegian port of Hammerfest on the mother ship Regalia. They have found calm seas in the Barents Sea area where the Kursk exploded and sank on Aug. 12, said a Russian naval spokesman, Capt. Igor Dygalo. All seamen on board were killed.

But meteorologists warned that the seas could grow rough next week, complicating the salvage effort.

Russian Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov said Thursday that the salvage effort was set to start next week, but may be canceled if experts decide the operation would risk deep divers' lives.

Many naval experts have pointed out that the divers, clad in bulky pressure suits, would face mortal danger while trying to squeeze inside the cramped submarine's interior, likely a mess of jagged pieces of metal and other debris.

Divers plan to cut holes in the submarine's double hull to create tunnels to pull bodies or body parts out into the ocean to bring to the surface.

Some marine experts have cautioned that the holes could weaken the submarine's structure and jeopardize the safety of the Kursk's nuclear reactors, which automatically shut down after the explosion.

Dygalo said Friday that no radiation leak had been detected.

If Kuroyedov sanctions the rescue effort, divers will descend in teams of three to the Kursk, which is lying at a depth of about 330 feet. A foreign diver will direct the recovery work from inside a diving bell, while one Russian enters the submarine and another remains near the hatch, the Navy has said.

The Kursk exploded and sank during naval exercises in the Barents Sea. Russian officials have not determined the cause of the accident. They are considering an internal malfunction, a collision with a Western submarine or collision with a World War II-era mine.

Russian newspapers and television stations have focused on the dangers of the recovery effort and questioned its wisdom, setting the stage for possible cancellation of the work. Many experts have warned that most bodies were destroyed in the powerful blast that hit the submarine and that the few remaining corpses would likely be consumed by plankton and corroded by sea water.

Some commentators have speculated that the government is actually interested in retrieving weapons, secret equipment and naval codes inside the Kursk, and will order that the seamen's remains be left behind. Kuroyedov has denied the claims.