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Trapped Russian mini-sub resurfaces in Pacific

August 6, 2005

By Meg Clothier

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian mini-submarine burst to the
surface on Sunday after rescuers hacked away the cables that
had snared it deep in Pacific waters and saved the crew before
their air supply ran out.

“The mini-sub has surfaced. The seven submariners on board
are alive,” naval spokesman Igor Dygalo was quoted by Interfax
as saying.

A naval officer had warned they might only have Sunday left
to rescue the men stuck on board the AS-28, which was snarled
up in heavy metal debris 190 meters (600 feet) below the
surface, because of dwindling oxygen.

The British Scorpio, an unmanned undersea rescue vehicle
rushed at Moscow’s request to waters off the far east Kamchatka
peninsula, was briefly forced to return to the surface but got
back to work to clear remaining debris.

“We are in constant contact with the crew through acoustic
signals, and according to them, their health condition is
satisfactory,” Interfax quoted the head of Russia’s Pacific
Fleet press service, Alexander Kosolapov as saying earlier.

The AS-28, itself a rescue vessel, got its propeller
tangled in metal cords from the antenna of an electronic
underwater monitoring station — part of Russia’s coastal
defenses — during military exercises.

The accident, which happened on Thursday but only came to
light the following day, has stirred up sore memories of a
botched attempt to save a Russian nuclear submarine five years
ago.

TRAUMA AND CRITICISM

The Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 after two
huge underwater explosions and all 118 crew perished in a drama
that traumatized Russia.

President Vladimir Putin was criticized for failing to
break off a holiday on the Black Sea while rescuers battled in
Arctic waters to reach the doomed crew.

This time round, Putin has so far stayed silent. But in a
sign of Kremlin concern, he dispatched Defense Minister Sergei
Ivanov to Kamchatka to take charge of the rescue operation.

Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyaev had told Russian television
the crew were keeping their spirits up. But he said oxygen was
running out: “Given the supplies of air, the rescue operation
must be ended by the end of the next 24 hours.”

The structure enmeshing the vessel was itself weighed down
on the ocean floor by two heavy anchors. A previous attempt on
Saturday to drag the mini-sub to shallow waters failed.

The coastal waters off Russia’s far east have highly
sensitive installations and there were suggestions the Russian
military was far from keen to allow foreign navies to come so
close to such a strategic area.

“This area is stuffed with secrets,” Interfax news agency
quoted retired Admiral Eduard Baltin, former Black Sea Fleet
commander, as saying. “It is home to strategic nuclear
submarines.” (Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova)




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