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Russian Submarine Accident: British to Help in Rescue Mission

Aired August 16, 2000 - 8:22 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Britain says the Russian government has now ask for help in the rescue mission of that ill-fated nuclear submarine, Kursk, which is on the bottom of the Barents Sea. There are conflicting reports on the fate of the 116 member crew.

The Oscar class submarine is home ported in Murmansk, Russia, and that's where our Steve Harrigan is this morning, he joins us now on the telephone. He's got more on the mood there as the hours pass -- Steve.

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, the mood here is a mixture, really people still holding out hope that at least some of those more than 100 seamen are alive. There is also some resentment from the fact that after more than four days now the rescue effort has really come up empty, a lot of people on the street that we have been talking to reacted the other day, wondering why Russia has up until now refused offers from Western nations for assistance.

Now there is a great deal of hope with the British offer, hope that perhaps it won't be too late to at least save some of those crew members. Now they are keeping many of the families isolated from the press. Down the road from Murmansk there is a roadblock to keep the media away from them, really almost anyone in this city is familiar with that level of anxiety. Most people here, their work is tied to the sea, they are either boatsmen or repairing boats.

So really a high sense of anxiety here in Murmansk. Actually, a team of psychologists has been flown to this northern port city, perhaps to deal with some grief in the days ahead -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, Steve Harrigan reporting live this morning from Murmansk. We thank you much.

Well, pride, compatibility and national security are factors in the initial Russian to not seek outside help as we have been hearing, but as we now know, help is being sought.

For more on this and other facets of this operation, we turn now to Joshua Handler. He is in New York this morning at our bureau there.

For the last 10 years, he has studied and observed first hand the Russian Navy and nuclear-related problems.

We thank you time this morning, Mr. Handler.

What do you make then of this request now for help from the British government, and this LR5 that they are sending over there, does this particular piece of equipment do something that no other piece is able to do?

JOSHUA HANDLER, NUCLEAR SYSTEMS SCHOLAR: Well, Leon, it's about time, time is of the essence here, and the Russians have delayed several days. So it may be a little bit too late, but obviously the Russians have had a problem matching up their rescue vehicle with the top of the submarine. The submarine is at an angle, and it is hopeful that this British equipment will have the ability to maneuver and seal with the submarine.

HARRIS: Now how does this sort of help get coordinated, because one of the reports I read said that one reason why the Russian were not asking for help immediately was because of the time that it would take and the effort that it would take to a coordinate this sort of effort takes away from the rescue mission that they were trying to affect?

HANDLER: Well, that certainly what has been in the reports but that is not clear, had the Russians immediately notified the world community that they were having a problem, it's quite possible equipment and material could have been rushed there in a timely fashion.

HARRIS: Do you think there is time now to actually do something? As you also may have heard, there have been reports this morning that there has been no sign of life reported on that submarine.

HANDLER: Obviously, the news isn't good in the sense that the noise has seemingly stopped coming from the submarine. The only other submarine, Russian submarine that has sank that they mounted a successful operation sank in 1983, it sank in the Pacific in shallow waters, in about 100 feet of water, and they managed to get the crew off that boat within a day or two. But every hour that passes makes the situation much more serious and decreases the chance that a successful rescue can be mounted.

HARRIS: With that in mind then, how long do you think it will be before the British crew is actually there and in the water and on their way down?

HANDLER: Well, I guess current reports are saying at the moment the equipment is on the way, it has to get to Murmansk, it needs to be deployed, it needs to be sailed out to the point. So it could be a matter of a day or two even before it arrives.

HARRIS: There was one other somewhat conflicting report out this morning about there being oxygen delivered down to the submarine and some official there or some, I guess, navy official, Russian navy official had said that there may now be oxygen on board that could keep these men alive through Friday or Saturday. Do you know about that? and is that possible? HANDLER: When, in principal, they could hook up an outside air supply, but earlier reports were they were not successful in doing so. I'm not sure what this report means. The situation inside the sub is akin to being trapped, let's say, in a refrigerator with toxic fumes building up inside.

It's possible the naval officials feel that they have been able to operate some equipment inside the submarine that is scrubbing out some of the more toxic fumes, and that is allowing the crew to have enough good air to last a few days longer.

HARRIS: I can't imagine a worse way to have to sit around and wait.

Joshua Handler, thank you very much for your time and your expertise this morning. We'll all keep an eye on this story and see how it develops.

HANDLER: Thanks very much, Leon.



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