14 Russian sailors die in secret sub fire: Kremlin

Fourteen sailors have purportedly died in a fire on a Russian deep-sea submersible with unconfirmed reports saying five survived.

The defence ministry said the fire was extinguished due to the “self-sacrifice” of the crew.

The unnamed vessel is believed to be nicknamed the Losharik, which was designed to study the seabed. It was reportedly performing tests at the time.

The dead crew were poisoned by fumes, the Russian defence ministry said.

“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,” the ministry added.

It is now at the Arctic port of Severomorsk, where Russia’s Northern Fleet is based.

Submersibles are usually smaller than submarines, which can operate over longer distances, are autonomous and do not require surface support.

Observers say the Losharik, which is believed to have entered service in 2010, is capable of diving to 6,000 metres while normal submarines cannot drop below 600 metres.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered an inquiry and summoned his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, to brief him on the accident.

“It is a big loss for the navy, and for the army as a whole,” Putin told Shoigu in a televised meeting. “It is not an ordinary vessel, as we know. It’s a scientific-research vessel, its crew is highly professional.”

He said that seven of the victims were at the highest possible rank of captain first in the staff of the Russian navy, and two of the sailors were holders of the Hero of Russia award.

Norway said it had not detected abnormally high levels of radiation after the submersible fire in the Barents Sea.

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

Russian reports claimed it was one of the Kremlin’s most secret vessels, a nuclear-powered AS-12 Losharik, designed for clandestine missions at ocean depths.

Security sources speculate that one of its possible missions could be cutting communication cables on the ocean floor.

The deadliest naval incident in post-Soviet Russia was the Kursk nuclear submarine which exploded and sank in August 2000 in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crew members.

Deadly military accidents continue to occur. In December 2016 a military plane flying to Syria crashed into the Black Sea shortly after take-off, killing all 92 people on board.




President Vladimir Putin with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Picture credit: Kremlin

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