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Nov-09-2008 10:01printcomments

At Least 20 Die in Russian Submarine Accident

The vessel was set to be commissioned in the Russian Navy later this year, and most of the dead were shipbuilders on board to carry out tests.

The Akula-class Russian attack submarine Nerpa.
Courtesy: NTV Russian Channel

(MOSCOW, Russia) - The Russian government confirms that at least 20 died Sunday during an accident on a brand new submarine operating in the Sea of Japan. It is the worst Russian submarine disaster since Russia lost the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea on August 12th 2000. The submarine was located by searchers at the depth of 108 meters on August 13. All the Kursk's 118 crewmembers died, The ITAR-TASS News agency reports.

Russian Navy Assistant Commander Capt. 1st Class Igor Dugalo says medics have examined the poisoned crew.

"Leading physicians of the Russian Pacific Fleet have examined 21 people affected in the self-induced start of the nuclear-powered submarine fire system. Twenty of them have insignificant poisoning, and the condition of one is more serious." he said.

Dugalo says the patients were delivered to Vladivostok onboard the Admiral Tributs, a large anti-sub ship of the Pacific Fleet. The escorted submarine arrived in a temporary base on the Primorye territory, dropping anchor at 10:30 AM Moscow time.

"The submarine returned from the testing area in the Sea of Japan (the East Sea) unaided. The Sayany rescue vessel was escorting the sub. The main engine unit is operating normally. The radiation level is regular," Dygalo said.

The cause of the deadly submarine accident has not been released. The Russians say that word will come after lengthy tests are completed, according to spokesman of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office Investigation Committee, Vladimir Markin.

"Pacific Fleet prosecutors have opened a criminal case and ordered forensic tests. The tests will take a long time,” he noted. “The initial tests showed that victims had inhaled Freon discharged in the self-induced start of the submarine fire system."

ITAR-TASS reports that according to the updated information, 20 people were killed, including three crewmembers and 17 civilians from the shipyard that built the submarine.

Russia is no stranger to submarine accidents.

On May 29th 1992, an electric compressor exploded aboard a nuclear-powered submarine of the North Fleet on May 29th 1992. One sailor died and five were injured.

Six Russian sailors died January 26th 1998 when ammonia and nitrogen leaked from a damaged cooling system of the Tomsk nuclear-powered submarine.

The accident involving the nuclear-powered Kursk submarine on August 12th 2000 claimed the lives of all 118 cerwmembers. The sub was found at the depth of 108 meters on August 13th. Russian and Norwegian divers retrieved the bodies on October 20 – November 7.

The K-159 submarine of the North Fleet was lost in the Barents Sea on August 30th 2003. The sub was decommissioned and the reactor was shut down in 1989. The submarine sank when being towed to a disposal site. Only one out of ten crewmembers was rescued.

One crewmember died aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the Kamchatka region on November 14th 2004. Investigators blamed the problem on a faulty air valve.

A decommissioned submarine caught fire at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk on August 1st 2005. One person died.

Also, a Russian AS-28 undersea vehicle became stuck in fishing nets at the depth of 190 meters in the Berezovaya Bay of Kamchatka on August 4th 2005. Seven sailors of the Pacific Fleet were inside the vehicle at the accident moment. A British Scorpio 45 released the AS-28 and it successfully reached the surface. All the sailors were rescued.

More recently, a nuclear-powered submarine of the North Fleet caught fire on September 6th 2006 according to ITAR-TASS. Two sailors died. The fire aboard the submarine reactors automatically shut the sub down, and it was towed to the Vidyayevo base.

Also is recent history, a fire broke out onboard the submarine Pantera while it was docked at the Severodvinsk shipyard on November 2th 2006. The cause was attributed to negligence of welders. Two firemen were poisoned.

The New York Times reports that Russian Naval officials would not provide the namne of the submarine, but later a state-owned news agency identified the vessel as the Nerpa, an Akula-class attack submarine, which was undergoing tests in the Sea of Japan at the time of the accident. Dygalo told the Times that its reactor had not been damaged and radiation levels were normal.

The vessel was apparently scheduled to be commissioned in the Russian Navy later this year, and most of the dead were shipbuilders on board to carry out tests.

"An additional 167 people on board were not injured," Mr. Dygalo said.

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