Storms threaten Kursk operation - October 22, 2000

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October 22, 2000
Web posted at: 4:37 AM EDT (0837 GMT)

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Stormy weather is hampering deep sea divers as they seek to penetrate the hull of the sunken Russian submarine Kursk in a bid to retrieve the bodies of 118 submariners inside.

The Russian and Norwegian divers have managed to remove a tough rubber lining from the outer hull that had slowed down work on Saturday, Itar-Tass news agency reported from the Arctic Barents Sea, where the Kursk sank on August 12.

But looming storms on Sunday are threatening to make it difficult for the divers to cut their way to the inner hull and create an opening to begin the planned retrieval of the remains of those killed in Russia's worst nuclear submarine disaster.

"The weather has finally worsened. There is a very strong wind and low clouds," NTV television said in a live broadcast from the far north region.

It added that waves in the Barents Sea could reach as high as two metres (six feet). Itar-Tass said a northwesterly wind was bringing with it cold Arctic air.

"Forecasters predict there will be a storm in the second half of the day, which will significantly complicate the work of the Russian and Norwegian divers," it said.

Interfax news agency said thick fog, rain and snow had reduced visibility in the area of the salvage operation and was preventing helicopter flights.

Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov instructed divers on Friday not to attempt anything that might endanger their lives.

"You should think of your lives and your families," he said.

Divers face grave risks

The divers, working from the Norwegian offshore platform Regalia, have to make seven holes in the Kursk to reach each corner of the 154 metre (505 feet) sub, badly damaged by explosions.

A spokesman for Russia's Northern Fleet has said penetration of the inner hull could be completed by Tuesday.


The divers have so far concentrated on making holes in the outer hull of the submarine's eighth and ninth compartments, but progress has been hampered both by the rubber lining and pipes filled with compressed air.

Divers could face grave danger trying to enter the Kursk, not only from intense cold and darkness 108 metres (330 feet) down, but also from jagged metal debris inside the wreck that could puncture their survival suits.

The operation, which also involves testing for radiation leaks, is being run by the Norwegian arm of U.S. oil services firm Halliburton.

Norwegian divers have been doing most of the survey work and cutting holes in the submarine, but only Russian military divers will actually enter the vessel.

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