Being in a Sub That Sinks to Bottom

Melissa Block talks Robert Moore, ITN News correspondent and author of A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy, about some of the similarities and differences between the current rescue operation in Russia's Pacific waters, and that of the Kursk submarine in 2000.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The explosion, sinking and failed rescue of the Kursk submarine in 2000 is the subject of journalist Robert Moore'e book "A Time to Die." He joins us in our studios to talk about this latest crisis with a Russian sub.

Thanks for coming in.

Mr. ROBERT MOORE (Author, "A Time to Die"): A pleasure.

BLOCK: The Kursk was huge, nuclear-powered, the pride of the Russian navy. This sub would be dwarfed by that vessel.

Mr. MOORE: Totally so. I mean, there are both comparisons and real dissimilarities with the two stories. The Kursk, as you say, was the pride of Russia's northern fleet, perhaps the most prestigious submarine in Russia's navy. We aren't talking about a submarine today. We're talking about a rescue submersible, ironically enough, one of the same type of rescue submersibles that was used to try and bring the Kursk submariners to the surface.

BLOCK: There is another big difference here if you look back and try to make comparisons to what happened in 2000 with the Kursk. Within a day of this accident, this time the Russians did ask for international help.

Mr. MOORE: That's right and that is a major improvement, if you like. I mean, the whole Kursk disaster was shrouded in national pride and in a great deal of military secrecy. Here we're talking about a rescue submersible which has no classified details whatsoever. So there's no surprise that the Russians would be more open. But nevertheless, it is welcome that they're being somewhat more transparent, and there's also a recognition right across the Russian armed forces now that in this sort of emergency it's Western technology that really could make the vital difference. That's why the invitations have gone out at very short notice to the Japanese, to the British and most notably to the United States.

BLOCK: You studied what happened to the men on the Kursk, the men who survived the initial explosion but then died sometime later. What do you know about what would be going on physiologically with the men on this minisub that are now trapped?

Mr. MOORE: The main problem is going to be, as always in these situations when people are stranded aboard a--you know, aboard a submarine or a submersible in this case, is simply they're going to die of carbon dioxide buildup much more than they are of oxygen depletion. So that's the major challenge, and that's why it is--again like it was with the 18 men who survived in the Kursk for so many hours and days--it's really a classic race against time, if you like. It's a matter of trying to make sure they can get to the surface before the buildup of carbon dioxide becomes fatal.

But these are rescue professionals. They know their environment. They know the technology, if you like. They understand their own physiology because they're in the rescue business.

BLOCK: When you were looking at the Kursk disaster, what did you learn about the Russian navy and its ability to admit mistakes--which seems like it didn't have that ability at all--and does it seem like they took any lessons from that disaster and are applying them to this one?

Mr. MOORE: I think they've made some progress on that front but probably not enough. But I think the fact that they recognized straightaway that they needed international help, the fact that military pride and military secrecy didn't get in the way of asking America, Britain and Japan for help suggests that lessons have been learned, and not just by the military, interestingly. I think President Putin has learned a lesson. Remember when the Kursk disaster happened he'd been in office--he'd been president of Russia for only 100 days.

BLOCK: In fact, you write about Vladimir Putin back in 2000 being on vacation when this happened and appearing to be completely callous to what was going on.

Mr. MOORE: I think that's right and that was the case, too, of the Russian military. There just wasn't a recognition back then in 2000, so soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that public opinion mattered, that it mattered how it played out across the Russian media. And the relatives of the submariners also realized that they had a voice in Russian society for the first time. President Putin is more sensitive to that. But when it comes to peoples' lives, when it comes to the lives of seven poor sailors trapped aboard this inadequate submersible, it really doesn't matter issues of pride and secrecy; it just matters trying to rescue them. And if that involves international Western technology, then so be it.

BLOCK: Robert Moore is a correspondent with ITN News and author of "A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy."

Thanks for coming in.

Mr. MOORE: A pleasure.

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