14 Russian sailors killed in research submarine fire

Nuclear-powered sub reported to have been involved in incident during sea-floor survey

Decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines in their Arctic base of Severomorsk, Russia, in 1998. Photograph:  AP

Decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines in their Arctic base of Severomorsk, Russia, in 1998. Photograph: AP

 

Fourteen Russian sailors were killed when a fire broke out while their deep-water research submarine was carrying out a survey of the sea floor near the Arctic, the Russian defence ministry said on Tuesday.

A Russian media outlet, RBC, cited an unnamed military source as saying the submarine was nuclear-powered, but Russian officials made no comment on the type of vessel involved.

The incident was the deadliest involving a Russian naval submarine since August 2000, when the nuclear-powered Kursk sank to the floor of Barents Sea after two explosions in its bow, killing all 118 men aboard.

The latest incident also took place in the vicinity of the Barents Sea. Authorities in nearby Norway said they were monitoring but had not detected abnormally high levels of radiation.

“This is a great loss for the navy,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting with his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

“We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who died. We will do everything we can to support them,” said Mr Putin, who cancelled a public engagement on Tuesday afternoon to deal with the incident.

Mr Putin told Mr Shoigu to fly to Severomorsk, the Russian naval base on the Barents Sea where the submarine is now located, to find out what caused the incident, and then report back to him.

The incident took place on Monday in Russian territorial waters and the fire has been extinguished, the Russian defence ministry said earlier

“Fire broke out on board a deep-water scientific research vessel that was studying the marine environment of the world ocean on behalf of the Russian navy,” Interfax news agency cited a ministry statement as saying. “Fourteen submariners died as the result of smoke inhalation.”

The defence ministry did not identify the type or model of the vessel. At their meeting, Mr Shoigu and Mr Putin also made no mention of the type of vessel, or whether it was nuclear-powered.

The RBC news outlet said it was a vessel known by the designation AS-12, which is powered by a nuclear reactor and is designed to carry out special operations at depths where regular submarines cannot operate.

Norwegian officials said they had been in touch with their Russian counterparts but had not been able to establish the type of vessel.

“We have made checks and we are not monitoring too high radiation levels in the area,” Per Strand, a director at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, told Reuters.

He said Russian officials had told his agency that a gas explosion took place on board the submarine. – Reuters