x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Officials investigate submarine tragedy

Russian officials begin to investigate an accident on a nuclear submarine that killed 20 people, as a service is held for the victims.

Russian officials today began investigating a gas poisoning accident on a nuclear submarine due to be leased to India that killed 20 people, as local people mourned the victims. A church service was held in the port city of Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast after the most serious accident in the Russian navy since the Kursk submarine tragedy in 2000 that killed 118 sailors in the Arctic Ocean.

A day of mourning will be marked in the region of Primorsky Krai in the Far East of Russia tomorrow and some of the victims will be buried in the nearby city of Bolshoi Kamen on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported. "It's very hard to bear... It's a real shock," Pavel Laptsov, a local inhabitant, said in comments broadcast on Channel One, speaking against the backdrop of the Bolshoi Kamen shipyards where the submarine sailed from.

The accident happened on Saturday off the Russian coast in the Sea of Japan, where the submarine was being tested before it was due to be leased to the Indian navy for a contract reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "The preliminary official version is the irregular functioning of the fire extinguishing system," Sergei Lelyukhin, a local government official, said after investigators met in Bolshoi Kamen today.

In as-yet unexplained circumstances, toxic freon gas was automatically pumped into the front section of the submarine after a fire alarm was triggered. Personnel in that section were starved of oxygen, officials said. "There are 21 people currently being treated in hospital. The rest of the crew are being examined," Alexander Kostenko, the deputy governor of Primorsky Krai, said on Channel One television.

Russian newspapers said the submarine was only intended for a crew of 73 and that there were 208 people on board during the tests. The Kommersant daily quoted navy personnel saying there may not have been enough oxygen masks. Kommersant also quoted a shipbuilding industry source commenting on the status of the leasing contract to India, which the newspaper said was worth at least US$650 million dollars (Dh2.3 billion).

"The submarine won't have significant damage after the accident. India's reaction to the incident is another thing, especially since its completion has been delayed at least twice," the source was quoted as saying. The shipyard at Bolshoi Kamen was off-limits to journalists but the popular newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that local inhabitants were disgruntled about confusing reports and a lack of information about the tragedy.

*AFP