THREE STEPS AWAY FROM THE KURSK MYSTERY

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Alexander Yemelianenkov Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 30, 2002, pp. 1, 3

An interview with Artur Yegiev of the Military Prosecutor General’s Office.

Artur Yegiev: Investigators were left with only three hypotheses by the end of 2001, all of them discussed before. Every hypothesis might have been correct because we could not discard any without a thorough examination of the submarine.

Question: What about the remaining thirteen hypotheses? They were already discarded?

Artur Yegiev: Yes. Including the assumption that the Kursk was sunk by surface combatants of the Northern Fleet.

According to the exercise plan, phase one of the exercise (missile shooting practice) was over on August 11. August 12 was dedicated to torpedo attacks by submarines. Not a single surface combatant, including the cruiser Pyotr Veliky, fired a shot that day. When the tragedy occurred, investigation ordered inspection of weapons and ordnance of all ships involved in the exercise. The inspection was organized by specialists of the Missile-Artillery Main Directorate of the Defense Ministry, that is, utterly uninvolved experts, in other words. Some flaws were uncovered, trifling ones, but all ordnance was accounted for. That rules out the hypothesis of unwarranted firing.

Question: The ships could not have rammed the Kursk either?

Artur Yegiev: Special attention was paid to this particular hypothesis. As I see it, investigation was thorough. Divers examined hulls of all surface combatants and submarines involved in the exercise. Commanders and crews of the ships were questioned, logs and other documents examined.

We found out that the closest ship to the Kursk had been 40 kilometers away.

Question: How could you prove it was not a terrorist act?

Artur Yegiev: One of the working hypotheses on the emergency does not rule out these possibilities. We do not have evidence that it was not the case. On the other hand, everything we did by way of investigation failed to produce any evidence pointing to a terrorist act… Our investigators and specialists examined almost the entire submarine already. As we see it, there are serious arguments against this hypothesis.

Question: The media returned to the Kursk catastrophe on many occasions. One newspaper even wrote that Captain Lyachin had allegedly reported a faulty torpedo but failed to get rid of it. The allusion was that the Navy deliberately “forgot” about it…

Artur Yegiev: The matter was closed a year ago. We painstakingly studied all necessary documents of the structure responsible for contact with submarines. All cables and reports from submarines of the Northern Fleet that made contact with the headquarters on August 11 and 12 were confiscated for examination. All officers and warrant officers who were on duty that day were questioned. Investigation reconstructed the chronology of events and actions of officials. We know for a fact that the Kursk did not report anything like that.

Question: Vice Admiral Motsak told a correspondent of Izvestia that the Kursk had gone on air three times – after the explosions.

Artur Yegiev: We investigated the episode. Yes, some servicemen and officers manning communications and observation posts – the ones who had to call the submarine after the catastrophe – say that somebody allegedly went on air with the Kursk’s call sign. Our specialists say it was wishful thinking.

When the calls were allegedly heard, the Kursk had spent between 6 and 12 hours on the seabed. It could not call anybody. Naval specialists say that it might have been a foreign reconnaissance vessel. We approached for assistance some countries, whose ships our specialists say might have been in the Barents Sea on August 12.

So far, we have not received anything that might have helped us.

Question: The assumption that someone might have escaped through the emergency hatch was not confirmed?

Artur Yegiev: Nobody escaped.

Question: The hatch was damaged? That was why the deep-sea rescue craft could not dock?

Artur Yegiev: It was damaged, and specialists say it might have affected the work of rescue craft. The question we ask is, “When was it damaged?” Before the tragedy? During the salvage operation? We are working on it now, services of specialists from various ministries and departments have been enlisted.

Question: Does it mean that the system itself for escape in emergency is imperfect? And I do not mean on the Kursk alone.

Artur Yegiev: We, together with specialists, plan to examine several submarines and do some docking experiments. We will be able to draw conclusions only after that.

Question: Was the Kursk reactor in the automatic shutdown mode?

Artur Yegiev: Specialists say that it was. Radiation background is normal, which is a kind of answer in itself. We did not find anybody in the reactor compartment. Everybody vacated it and went to Compartment Nine.

Question: How is the work on the Kursk organized nowadays?

Artur Yegiev: We work shifts from 0800 hours to midnight. Each team includes two investigators, a Rubin representative, compartment commander (from other submarines), and technicians.

All metal constructions are pressed together, where we are now. Everything is deformed.

Hence the slow rate. We are moving literally centimeter by centimeter.

Guided missiles are still there. Explosives are still there somewhere. Over 700 kilograms of explosives have been retrieved from Compartments Two and Three so far. They are mostly fragments of torpedoes. One such fragment weighed exactly 250 kilograms.

We know where various contraptions and meters are supposed to have been located. We are looking for them. It became clear from the very beginning in aft compartments that not all documents had been destroyed. There are reasons to believe that we may find logs. They were in Compartment Two.

Question: Is there a chance that the log – provided it survived, of course – may contain anything that will help us unravel the mystery?

Artur Yegiev: Specialists say there must be something in the log confirming or answering the questions raised by the investigation. Explosion on the Kursk took place approximately an hour before the scheduled torpedo attack. “Enemy” ships were not in the designated area yet. Which orders were given in the Kursk then? If a problem with a torpedo was suspected, what was done with it? And so on.

Question: If the Kursk had made acoustic contact with somebody, it would have been recorded, right?

Artur Yegiev: Right. Moreover, the submarine always classifies the object and calculates the range and the course of the object. We found a recording device in Compartment Three. Our specialists have already reconstructed some events and details of August 12. Unfortunately, a part of the tape perished in the explosion and whatever survived did not tell us anything we had not known already.

Question: Referring to Rubin experts, some members of the governmental commission claim that they have a clear picture of what transpired in the submarine after the first explosion…

Artur Yegiev: We work together with the Design Bureau Rubin and other organizations either within the governmental commission or acting on its orders.

At present, the investigation lacks any information indicating that somebody might have a clear picture of what transpired in the Kursk after the first explosion. Moreover, specialists say that the second explosion partly obliterated and partly altered consequences of the first. Russian Federal Forensic Center is working now; its experts have been given an opportunity to study some objects and fragments right in the Kursk.

When the expert examination is over, we will be able to draw some conclusions on the fire that raged in Compartments One and Nine.

Question: What about the widespread opinion that a torpedo went off in the torpedo compartment?

Artur Yegiev: We are working on this hypothesis. At the same time, we still lack answers to some vital questions that would have unraveled the mystery of the first explosion and the ensuing events. As a matter of fact, the investigation is interested in everything, even in questions like, “Which torpedo was the second to go off?” and “Why?”

Question: Dmitry Kolesnikov’s message was not the only one to be found. Another one was discovered. Who wrote it and what did he write, can you say?

Artur Yegiev: In brief only. We identified the author, but the message is evidence. We checked Compartment Nine against what was written in it. Many things did not tally.

Question: Like what?

Artur Yegiev: According to the message, the survivors were running out of regenerating units. We found twelve cases of them right where they were supposed to be. The ladder, also, was not even fitted to the emergency hatch…

In short, there are many questions the investigation wants answers to. Do not rush us.

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