Salvage Experts: Kursk Lifting Operation Ready to Begin
The much-delayed operation to raise the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk was ready to begin late Sunday after the Dutch firm in charge said the final cables were in place to hoist the vessel from the Barents Sea bed.
"The divers have linked up all 26 cables and the operation to lift the Kursk can begin," said Larissa van Seumeren, a spokeswoman for Mammoet-Smit.
"We are currently applying a tension of 150 tons to the 26 cables" now attached to the hull.
"These tests will continue for two hours after which time the tension will be increased and the raising operation proper will begin," van Seumeren added.
Before that, however, rescue experts had to dig the 20,000-ton vessel out of an estimated two metes of silt by giving it a "shake" 108 metes under the icy Arctic water.
The shaking process could be accomplished by strapping a massive cable around the submarine, van Seumeren said.
The actual lifting operation is expected to last between 10 and 12 hours, officials said.
The steel cables, each weighing 22 tons, are attached to a barge, Giant-4, which is then due to tug the sub to dock on the Kola peninsula.
The Kursk, Russia's most modern nuclear-powered submarine, sank on August 12 last year after a series of explosions on board which have still not been explained.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the vessel to be raised after promising the seamen's families that their relatives' bodies would be recovered.
It is hoped that the $65-million salvage operation will cast some light on the accident that sent the Kursk to the bottom of the sea.
Although the Russian navy says risks are negligible, the presence of 18 torpedoes, 22 missiles and two nuclear reactors inside the sunken vessel has given environmentalist groups and experts serious reasons to worry.
There have been conflicting reports as to whether salvage operators have managed to fully slice off the bow of the sub, which stored most of the weapons on board.
Ilya Klebanov, the Russian minister in charge of overseeing the operation, told Russian television late Saturday that there was a small chance that the front section had not been fully sliced off because the sub had sunk into the sediment so deeply.
Klebanov said that there was a chance that the Kursk may be brought back down after the lifting operation begins should it become clear that the damaged and dangerous bow was still attached to the main body of the Kursk.
Salvage workers are racing against time as the Arctic winter closes in and threatens to scupper the whole operation until next year, but a spokesman for the Northern Fleet, Vladimir Navrotski, said the weather should stay relatively fine until Tuesday -- MURMANSK, Russia (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)