Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

"Kursk" probably had an accident Friday

by Inge Sellevag

This paper was published in Bergens Tidende (August 23, 2000). We thank the author for his kind permission to publish the article at the START Web site.

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- "Kursk" probably had an accident Friday evening August 11, not Saturday morning the following day as stated, the Russian researcher Eugene Miasnikov said to the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende.

The Russian minister of defense Igor Sergeyev said in an interview this Monday that the Russian understood that something was wrong with "Kursk" when the submarine did not report to the naval exercise command Saturday evening as agreed.

Alarm buoy

"Kursk" was according to Sergeyev first to launch a cruise missile and then fire a torpedo as part of the exercise. It reported that the missile was fired, but did not report the torpedo firing as it was supposed to do at 6 p.m. Russian time (1400 GMT) on Saturday. A search operation started and the submarine was located on the sea bottom Sunday morning.

- At the same time Sergeyev said that the Russians also registered the two explosions which seismic stations in the west detected Saturday morning. This does not fit. The intervall between the explosions and the time the naval exercise command understood that something had happened is too long, says Miasnikov :

- We now know that the Russian navy knew about the accident right away after it happened. Vladimir Simonov, the general director of Russia's control systems, said last Saturday to the Russian newspaper Izvestia that "Kursk" released an alarm buoy as it is supposed to do in an emergency situation. The buoy went up to the surface and sent an emergency signal to the exercise command via a communication satellite.

- Simonov did not say when the buoy was released, but we can regard him as a reliable source for the information that it actually happened, says Eugene Miasnikov. He has published studies of the two collisions between US and Russian submarines in the Barents Sea in the early 1990s and he has looked at the information about "Kursk" coming from official Russian sources :

- There has been much contradicting and confusing statements, but all the pieces of information start to give meaning if we assume that the officials are messing with the time of the accident. They first said it happened Monday, then it was Sunday and then Saturday. I think the final truth will be that it happened late Friday, says Miasnikov.

At the seabed

I don't know what went wrong. It may be a collision with a submarine or a surface vessel, or some other accident, Miasnikov continues. The first damage in his opinion probably were not so serious that "Kursk" sank right away :

- The submarine however did not manage to keep afloat, so it released an alarm buoy and went down to lay on the sea bottom. Remember the first news reports about the accident Monday said that the submarine was forced to descend to the ocean floor because of some malfunction or technical problem. It could not move, the reports said.

Two explosions

- The rescue operation probably started Friday night, soon after the emergency signal from the alarm buoy was received. One or two compartments in the submarine were maybe filled with water, some of the crew were maybe dead or damaged. But the situation was not critical. The crew shut down the reactor and waited for help.

- Then Saturday something terrible happened. Two explosions occured with approximately two minutes' interval. It could be an explosion in the torpedo chamber, the pressure tank may have exploded or something else went wrong inside the submarine. The last explosion damaged heavily and after that there may have little hope of finding survivors on board.

Will not speculate

The Russian researcher emphasize that he try to stick to facts. He don't want to speculate over the possible presence of foreign submarines in the area where the accident happened and the the theory that "Kursk" may have collided with a submarine.

- I mean that it is a fact that the Russian navy knew about the accident right after it occured on Friday and also that they found "Kursk" quickly, maybe after some hours. Later officials have entangled themselves in a series of statements which indicate that the prevailing description of the chain of events cannot be correct

The Norwegian defense has informed that the Norwegian research vessel "Marjata" who was present 15 nautical miles from the place "Kursk" went down observed a rescue operation taking place midday Saturday. "Marjata" at the time regarded the operation as a part of an exercise.

- I think this observation also supports the hypothesis that the accident happened Friday evening, Eugene Miasnikov says.

Bergens Tidende, 2000

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