Update, Kursk: Foreign Sub Sent SOS

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Tuesday November 21 11:09 AM ET Russian Navy Chief: Foreign Sub Sent SOS Near Kursk

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia recorded SOS signals from a foreign submarine when its own nuclear submarine, the Kursk (news - web sites), was sinking with 118 sailors on board in August, a top navy commander said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.

The cause of the accident with the Kursk in the Barents Sea remains unclear but Russian officials have said a collision was a possibility. The United States and Britain have denied their submarines were involved.

Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta there was growing evidence the Kursk sank after a collision with a foreign vessel.

``The 'Polinom' hydro-acoustic system located SOS signals sent by a mechanical transmitter,'' Popov said, referring to Russian naval surveillance equipment.

``Further spectral analysis made by the Northern Fleet laboratory showed that the signal belonged to a foreign submarine in the area,'' he said.

Popov, one of the leading advocates of the collision theory, did not specifically say the foreign submarine had hit the Kursk and gave no further details.

Popov's interview appeared on the day British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) was holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites). It was not clear whether they would discuss the Kursk.

Two Powerful Explosions Rocked Kursk

At the start of failed rescue operation in August, officials said that surveillance equipment picked up SOS signals sent by the crew. But later they said they had mistaken other sounds for SOS signals.

The Kursk was destroyed by two powerful explosions on board during a naval exercise and now rests some 330 feet under the sea.

But officials say the primary cause of the explosions could be firmly established only if the Kursk was moved to shallow waters next summer as planned.

They say that apart from colliding with another vessel, the accident could have been caused by the Kursk hitting a World War Two mine or an explosion of ammunition on board.

Russian and Norwegian divers undertook a high-risk operation in October to retrieve bodies, but managed to bring only 12 of them to the surface.

Russian media have said that apart from recovering bodies, Russian divers attempted to take secret equipment and logs from the submarine.

Two notes written by Kursk sailors were found during the salvage operation, but officials said they revealed little about the cause of the disaster.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), November 21, 2000

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