MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A small Russian submarine is trapped under the Pacific Ocean with seven people on board. The sub is off the Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. The Russians are conducting a rescue operation and they've asked for help from the US, Britain and Japan. As NPR's Martha Wexler reports from Moscow, the accident is reminiscent of the disaster with the submarine Kursk five years ago.
MARTHA WEXLER reporting:
The vessel known as the AS-28 is actually designed for underwater rescue itself. This type of minisub was used in the unsuccessful attempt to save the 118 sailors who died aboard the submarine Kursk five years ago. Russian officials say the propeller of the minisub apparently got caught up in a fishing net Thursday morning local time. It's now trapped 625 feet under the sea.
Since the first reports of the accident hit the Russian media this morning, there has been a great deal of confusion about how long the sailors on board can survive. At various points during the day, Russian naval spokesmen and officers said there was enough oxygen to last for two or three days. But the most recent official comment from Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyaev gave a more sober estimate.
Rear Admiral VLADIMIR PEPELYAEV (Russia): (Russian spoken)
WEXLER: `There is enough oxygen for more than 12 hours,' he says, `but exactly how much will depend on many factors, including the activity of the crew.' The Russians say they're in contact with the submarine but don't have voice contact with the crew members.
There's also been a lot of confusion about the rescue operation 47 miles southeast of the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski. The commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Viktor Fyodorov, said a rescue vessel had hooked a line onto the minisub and is towing it to shallower waters where it would be possible to rescue the crew. But Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyaev casts some doubt on Fyodorov's announcement.
Rear Adm. PEPELYAEV: (Russian spoken)
WEXLER: Admiral Pepelyaev said, yes, the line had latched onto something, but he couldn't say if it was the minisub.
At Russia's request the US Navy is flying out two Super Scorpios, remotely operated unmanned submarines, with a 30-member US support team. Retired Admiral John Mooney oversaw undersea salvage operations for the US Navy. He said if the sub is still tangled in cables, the Scorpios could help.
Admiral JOHN MOONEY (Retired, US Navy): The gear that they're sending over does have a manipulator with a cutter on it. Now whether that cutter is capable of cutting through whatever is the attachment on this case I don't know, but hopefully it will be sufficient.
WEXLER: The British are sending their own Scorpio, and Japanese salvage boats are also on the way. The stream of contradictory statements from the Russian brass is reminiscent of the confusion in the days after the submarine Kursk went down in the Barents Sea. Journalist Alexander Goltz writes about the Russian military for the online Daily Journal.
Mr. ALEXANDER GOLTZ (Daily Journal): It looks that nothing changed. It looks that no one lesson from Kursk was learned by Russian authorities.
WEXLER: He says the Russian navy has done nothing to improve its rescue capabilities since the Kursk went down. And, Goltz says, it's clear that the natural instinct of Russian officers remains to hide the unpleasant truth from the public and their senior commanders for as long as possible. Martha Wexler, NPR News, Moscow.
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