Lull in Stormy Weather Allows Divers to Pursue Kursk Recovery
A lull in stormy weather Tuesday enabled divers to resume their bid to recover the bodies of 118 sailors entombed in a watery grave in the Kursk nuclear submarine, officials said.
A day after the operation was suspended because of fierce Arctic winds and buffeting waves, the Norwegian-Russian team of divers descended to the site of the wreck to continue cutting a hole through which they will enter the Kursk.
"The work resumed at 9:00 A.M. (0500 GMT). Right now the Russian-Norwegian diving team is working on the eighth compartment, installing the equipment to cut into the Kursk," Northern Fleet spokesman Vadim Serga said.
Overnight the meteorological conditions eased, with wind speed dropping from 90 to 45 kilometers (around 30 miles) per hour in the zone in the Barents Sea where the submarine sank.
But Serga warned that the divers would likely enjoy only a brief window of opportunity since the weather was expected to take a sudden turn for the worse by late Wednesday or Thursday morning.
"The weather is expected to significantly worsen again and the operation will be suspended," he said, speaking from the Russian naval base of Severomorsk.
The gusting winds had been unleashing huge waves around the massive red square Regalia diving platform, which is the nerve center of the operation some 150 kilometers (90 miles) off Russia's northwest coast.
The 18-strong diving team have been working in relays to cut their way into the nuclear submarine, which sank with the loss of all hands on August 12 following two catastrophic explosions.
The divers labored all day Monday with underwater blow torches to cut an entrance to the Kursk's 40-centimeter (16-inch) thick inner-hull wide enough to allow them to enter the vessel unhindered and extricate the bodies.
Their task was to carve open an entrance 1.5 metros by 75 centimeters (around five feet by two feet) in the rear section. By the time the work was called off Monday, the divers had cut a one-metro wide hole.
A second hole was to be cut in the neighboring compartment.
Three divers -- two Russians and a Norwegian -- at a time are descending to the wreck site, currently lying in 108 metros (355 feet) of water, aboard a bell-shaped water-tight submersible.
Only the Russians are scheduled to go inside Kursk while the Norwegian diver is due to stay inside the submersible to monitor their work.
A test hole at the weekend showed compartment eight was completely flooded but revealed no signs of radioactivity leaking from the vessel's nuclear reactor.
Despite the complex operation, expected to cost some seven million dollars, experts warn that at best the divers will only be able to recover 20 to 30 percent of the sailors who lost their lives aboard the Kursk.
Moscow has still failed to issue an official explanation as to what happened, although Western analysts suggest that a fire broke out in the craft's ammunition store, which quickly set off stocked torpedoes and missiles.
The tragedy shocked the nation and led to a storm of criticism of President Vladimir Putin's handling of the crisis -- he was widely condemned for staying on vacation as the drama unfolded -- SEVEROMORSK, Russia (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)