214, July 16, 2001

The first stage of an operation to raise sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk has been launched today, RIA Novosti news agency reported, quoting the press service of Russia’s Navy. The Norwegian ship Mayo together with Russian navy missile ships Aisberg and Severomorsk arrived to the Barents Sea wreck site on Sunday and started preparation works.

The nuclear-powered submarine, which sank after an explosion during manoeuvres on August 12 in the Barents Sea, killed all 118 sailors on board. Only 12 bodies were recovered during a salvage operation last October. The reactors were automatically shut down when the vessel sank, and regular monitoring has shown no radiation leak, according to Russian officials.

Russian officials said the disaster was caused by a practice torpedo, but they hope to learn more about the explosion after raising the Kursk.

25 divers – 8 Russian, 1 American and 16 British – are involved in the operation. They will mark the wreck spot with buoys later today. Igor Dygalo, an aide to the commander of the Russian Navy, told Interfax news agency that the divers would be allowed down only after a detailed examination of the area surrounding the Kursk.

A deep-water device lowered from the Mayo examined radiation levels 50 meters around the submarine and ensured it did not exceed the natural background of the Barents Sea. Operation’s HQ headed by Vice Admiral Mikhail Matsak took up position on board the Severomorsk.

Russian ship Klavdiya Yelanskaya will carry Russian and foreign journalists to cover the operation and will put out from Murmansk tonight at 20.00 Moscow time.