Russian submarine accident kills 20
AFP - Monday, November 10
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AFP) - - Twenty people were killed and 22 injured in an accident on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Sea of Japan, the navy said on Sunday.
The nuclear reactor that powers the submarine was not damaged and background radiation levels in the naval testing zone where the accident occurred were "normal," a naval spokesman said.
It is the worst incident for the Russian Navy since an onboard explosion led to the sinking of the Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea. The 2000 accident claimed the lives of 118 crewmen.
"During sea trials of a nuclear-powered submarine of the Pacific Fleet the firefighting system went off unsanctioned, killing over 20 people, including servicemen and workers," said Captain Igor Dygalo, the navy's spokesman.
The high-speed attack submarine was undergoing sea trials. It is thought to have been under construction since the early 1990s, its construction bogged down in the wake of the Soviet collapse.
State media said the vessel had been due to be delivered to India's navy.
Officials said three naval officers and 17 civilians had died in the accident. Dygalo said the victims included servicemen and shipyard workers who had been participating in the sea trials.
Autopsies showed the victims died from inhaling freon gas released into part of the submarine when its fire extinguishing system activated for reasons that are unclear, news agencies quoted Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the federal investigative committee, as saying.
Although the crew were issued with portable breathing devices, "it's probable the submariners didn't notice the inflow of gas and when they felt it, it was already too late," RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified official at navy headquarters as saying.
The injured were evacuated from the stricken submarine aboard an accompanying ship and were taken to a hospital on shore for treatment, Pacific Fleet hospital officials said.
The submarine itself returned to the port of Bolshoi Kamen, site of a large refitting shipyard, where the bodies of the dead were offloaded, a spokesman for the shipyard said.
A source with the Pacific Fleet's hospital in Vladivostok told AFP the injured people were suffering from poisoning, although their lives were not said to be in danger.
The accident occurred Saturday and Dygalo said President Dmitry Medvedev had been briefed by Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and had ordered a "full and meticulous" investigation.
Dygalo did not identify the submarine involved.
However, a source in the Amur shipyard administration named the submarine as the K-152 Nerpa, a nuclear-powered submarine of the Project 971 Shchuka-B type, or Akula-class by NATO classification, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The Nerpa was due to be leased to the Indian navy, with New Delhi reportedly paying two billion dollars for the lease of two Akula-class submarines, with an option of buying them when the lease runs out.
In October, officials from the Amur shipyard reported the launch of sea trials for the 8,140-tonne Nerpa, which had been under construction since 1991.
The Echo of Moscow radio station reported that the Amur shipyard had been beset by problems including failure to pay workers following the arrest of one of its shareholders last December. It said this had led to a decline in standards of work.
Federal investigators had opened a criminal probe into the accident, Interfax news agency reported.
Dygalo told AFP that the submarine itself was not damaged and there was no radiation leakage from its reactor.
"I announce with full authority that the submarine's reactor compartment is functioning normally and that background radiation aboard the submarine is normal," Dygalo said.
A total of 208 people were aboard the submarine, of whom 81 were servicemen while the others were naval technicians and specialists.
The Kremlin was harshly criticised at home and abroad for its sluggish and secretive response to the Kursk disaster, but seemed to be moving quickly to avoid a repetition this time.
In addition to the Kursk disaster, Russia has seen a string of mishaps with its naval submarines.
Nine sailors died aboard a K-159 submarine when it sank in the Barents Sea in August 2003 while being towed to port for decommissioning. Only one seaman survived that incident.
In 2005, a mini-submarine of the Pacific Fleet got snared underwater in a fishing net, requiring the help of a British rescue team that arrived many hours laters its oxygen supplies were dwindling.
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The 'Kursk' accident claimed the lives of 118 crewmen perished in the Barents Sea. The Kursk sank in 2000 after an explosion in one of the submarine's torpedo tubes. At least 20 people were killed and 22 injured in an accident on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Sea of Japan -- the worst such incident since the 2000 Kursk disaster
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