Kursk arrives at Russian port
MURMANSK, Russia -- A salvage barge has pulled into the waters of a Russian shipyard carrying under its hull the Kursk submarine and the remains of sailors killed when it exploded and sank last year.
The Giant-4 barge was attached to floating anchors about 500 yards (metres) from shore at Roslyakovo near the northern port city Murmansk just after 5 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported Russian Navy spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky as saying.
He said it would take two or three days to prepare the ship for docking.
"People concentrated all their efforts. The situation was very tense as people felt high responsibility," Navrotsky told reporters. "After anchoring we immediately will start detailed radiation checks."
The barge was escorted by ships that were checking to ensure no leakage from Kursk's two nuclear reactors, which have been a constant cause of concern since the submarine sank in August 2000 during naval manoeuvres, killing its entire 118-man crew.
Officials have said the reactors on the Kursk, one of Russia's most modern submarines, were safely shut down at the time.
Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is in charge of the Kursk salvage effort in the Russian Cabinet, insisted the 18,000-ton vessel's reactors would remain safe.
"We are absolutely confident nothing will happen to the reactors," Klebanov, who oversaw the Kursk's lifting, told reporters on Tuesday.
"If there had been one in a million chance that something would happen, we would never had carried out the operation in Roslyakovo."
Once the Kursk is docked, officials will remove the remains of the crew to prevent damaging contact with the air. Navrotsky said officials expected to find 30 or 40 bodies, because the others on board were probably atomised by the powerful explosions that sank the submarine.
At least 23 Kursk sailors survived for several hours in the stern compartments, according to letters found when divers entered the vessel in November and recovered 12 bodies.
At least 30 graves were dug at the Serafimov cemetery in St. Petersburg for the burial of the dead sailors. Two sailors whose bodies were retrieved are buried in Serafimov.
Despite the reassurances from officials, concern about a possible radiation leak has prompted Roslyakovo officials to work out evacuation plans and boost medical supply stores.
Another worry was the Kursk's 22 Granit cruise missiles. "Unloading missiles is dangerous even in normal conditions," Popov said. "We are taking extra safety precautions."
If it proves impossible to safely lift the missiles from their containers, the navy is prepared to cut them out of the Kursk's hull together with containers, Popov said.
He did not say when the missiles would be removed, but estimated it would take at least a year to dismantle the submarine along with its nuclear reactors and missiles.
It took the Dutch Mammoet-Smit International consortium 15 hours to lift the submarine, which was lying 356 feet below the surface, on steel cables lowered from the Giant 4 barge. The operation cost the Russian government $65 million.
The government said the Kursk must be raised to avoid any potential danger to the environment from its nuclear reactors and to shipping because of its position in shallow waters.
The Russian navy also hopes to determine the cause of the disaster. The favoured theory is that Kursk sank after a practice torpedo exploded, causing others to detonate and rip the submarine apart.
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The Government of the Russian Federation
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