August 5, 2005

Fears grow for air supply of Russia mini-sub crew

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Seven Russian sailors were trapped on
board a stranded military mini-submarine 600 feet down on the
sea floor of the Russian Pacific on Friday with enough air to
last only 24 hours, officials said.

The AS-28 mini-submarine, itself a rescue vessel, ran into
trouble on Thursday when its propeller got entangled in fishing
nets during a military exercise off the Kamchatka peninsula.

As a big rescue operation, involving Russian and Japanese
ships, got under way to bring the crew up, naval officials
suddenly revised their earlier assertions that the crew had
enough air to last them several days.

"After additional calculations by fleet specialists and
after talks with the crew, it has been established that there
was only a 24 hours supply of air on the AS-28," chief naval
spokesman Alexander Dygalo was quoted as saying by Interfax
news agency.

Earlier, Dygalo had said there was a five-day supply of air
and an adequate amount of food and water on board while, in a
conflicting report, the Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Viktor
Dmitriyev, said there was only enough air for two days.

Though much smaller in scale, the accident had
uncomfortable echoes of the disaster involving the Kursk
nuclear submarine almost exactly five years ago.

All 118 seamen on the Kursk died in that accident in August
2000 in the Arctic Barents Sea that occurred after explosions
on board.

Dygalo said the AS-28's propeller had caught in a part of a
fishing net. "The net has wrapped around the propeller and the
vessel has got caught in the net's anchor wire," he said.

At 190 meters (600 feet), the AS-28, a 13-meter-long (40
feet) vessel capable of diving to depths of 1,000 meters (3,000
feet), was too far down to allow the crew to evacuate.

Officials said there had been contact with the crew and
nobody had been hurt.

"The situation is unusual, but one should not overdramatise
it," Pacific Fleet spokesman Alexander Kosolapov told Rossiya

Altogether, nine Russian ships and one from Japan were
taking part in the operation to raise the stricken vessel.

Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted the Defense Agency as
saying Japan would send four vessels.

Interfax said naval authorities were also in contact with
U.S. naval forces in the Pacific to see if they could help.

After the Kursk disaster, Russian navy command faced strong
public criticism for being too slow in requesting foreign