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THE KURSK TRAGEDY: Raw wound reopened in Russia

PortandTerminal.com, July 4, 2019

The deaths of 14 elite submariners in Russia this week onboard the secret Losharik submarine has reopened a raw wound for the nation that still remembers the loss in 2000 of 118 crew members onboard the Kursk submarine

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – The Losharik is one of the most unique and capable in Russia’s naval fleet. The deaths of 14 of its elite crew this week in an unexplained incident have touched a raw nerve in Russia, which remembers the horrific loss of 118 of its servicemen onboard the Kursk sinking in 2000.

The Kursk

An undated photo of the ill-fated Kursk submarine at her mooring at a base of Vidyayevo, Russia.

On August 12, 2000, all 118 of the crew onboard the Russian submarine Kursk were killed in an accident in the Barents Sea. The nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea during a maritime exercise. It happened just a few months after Putin began his first term as president and was a test to the newly elected leader of the nation.

The Kursk sank after two huge explosions. Nearby ships registered the initial explosion and a second, much larger, explosion which registered 4.2 on the Richter scale on seismographs as far away as Alaska, yet the Russian Navy did not realise that the sub had sunk and did not initiate a search for more than six hours.

A relative of a sailor who died aboard the Kursk submarine is offered a drink by a naval officer as she is comforted by another mourner during a ceremony held on a ship above the site where the submarine lies in the Barents Sea August 24, 2000. © Reuters

According to the generally accepted theory, a hydrogen peroxide leak in the forward torpedo room led to the detonation of a torpedo warhead, triggering the explosion of more warheads about two minutes later. The second explosion was equivalent to around six tons of TNT.

By the time it declared an emergency 11 hours later, the crew were — unknown to anyone — all dead. Because the sub’s emergency rescue buoy had been intentionally disabled, it took more than 16 hours to locate the sunken boat.

23 men were left alive after the explosions and survived for at least several hours, desperately hoping for a rescue operation that never came.

23 men of the crew’s 118 survived for a while

A July 30, 2000 file picture shows the crew of the sunken Russian submarine Kursk lead by Captain Grigory Lyachin (R) during a naval parade which was held in Severomorsk. © Reuters

Most of the 118 crew members of the Kursk were under 30 years of age.

Twenty-three seamen survived the initial two blasts. They gathered in the ninth compartment, where the second emergency exit was located. At that point they could have escaped, one by one, from a depth of 100 meters. However, the crew declined to leave the vessel, deciding to wait for a rescue ship. Soon afterwards, the ship’s reactors shut down along with emergency power supply. The temperature inside the submarine began to drop. Rescuers failed to make contact with the crew. All 23 survivors of the initial blasts died one by one.

Follow-up

The monument to submarine sailors who died in peacetime, featuring the control room of the Kursk submarine. © Alexey Kudenko © RIA Novosti

One hundred and fifteen bodies were removed from the wreck and buried in Russia, but three navy officers aboard Kursk were never found. A decree signed by President Putin posthumously awarded all the crew the Order of Courage, and the title of Hero of the Russian Federation was bestowed on the submarine’s captain.

The Russian government’s 133-volume report on the incident remains classified and only a four-page summary was issued to the public in 2002.

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