Kursk raised from seabed

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The Russian nuclear submarine, the Kursk, has been lifted from the bed of the Barents Sea and is heading towards shore. The vessel, which sank last year killing all 118 people on board, docked safely with the giant salvage barge at about 1500 GMT, after a 15-hour lifting process.

The barge pulled anchor at 0700 GMT, when the submarine was still below the surface, and began drifting slowly. It is now heading towards shore at a speed of three knots on a journey expected to take two days if the current good weather holds.

The lifting, delayed by bad weather and mechanical problems, had originally been scheduled for mid-September and the approaching Arctic winter raised concerns that the operation might not be completed this year.

Radiation 'normal' "The emotion was very great when we heard this news, because it means this enormous labour by divers, sailors and technical experts, has not been in vain," the head of Russia's Northern Fleet, Vice-Admiral Mikhail Motsak said. Divers have spent the past seven days attaching 26 massive cables from the Giant-4 barge to holes cut in the hull of the wreck.

The Dutch salvage company Mammoet said the submarine had been less deeply embedded in the seabed than thought. "The vessel is completely loose now and free from mud. It came off quite easily, easier than we expected," Mammoet spokeswoman Larissa van Seumeren said. A force of 9,000 tonnes was required to raise the wreck, another Mammoet spokesman said.

Final hurdle Divers have been inspecting the operation every hour - checking radiation levels and the angle between the barge and the submarine. There have been fears of a possible radiation leak but levels are still said to be normal. "The only thing we could fear is bad weather," said Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky.

To reduce the risk of a dangerous accident during the lifting process, the salvage team earlier cut off the badly damaged bow section, containing the torpedo bay. It had been feared that the section might otherwise fall off during the operation.

Hunting for clues The Kursk will first be taken to a floating dock at Roslyakovo, outside Murmansk. The Kursk will be towed to Roslyakovo dock. After initial investigations and the removal of cruise missiles, the wreck will be towed to nearby Snezhnogorsk. Investigators will search for clues as to what caused the catastrophic explosions on 12 August last year.The Russian navy initially blamed the sinking on a collision with a Western vessel. A subsequent investigation suggested the cause was more likely to have been an accident in the torpedo bay.

Russian President Vladimir Putin came in for severe criticism for his handling of the crisis, after failing to break off a holiday and return to Moscow. He later promised to ensure that the remains of the sailors' bodies were returned to their families at any cost.


Further information is available at: http://www.kursk141.org/ http://www.kursksalvage.com/

-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), October 09, 2001

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