Kursk to Be Lifted As Early as Next Month

Monday, August 20, 2001
A Dutch firm leading Russia's effort to raise the Kursk said on Monday it was convinced the salvage was safe and planned to start cutting away the nuclear submarine's mangled torpedo bay at the end of this week.

Vyacheslav Zakharov, head of the Moscow office of Dutch heavy transport specialist Mammoet, said the 18,000 ton Kursk would be lifted in mid-September as planned, some 13 months after two explosions tore it open in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 men on board.

"Navy specialists have proved fairly convincingly to us that there is no danger...and there are no unexploded torpedoes in (Kursk's) front section," Zakharov said.

"And none of the specialists involved have any worries about the condition of the reactors," he said, adding that the removal of the torpedo bay "should start Friday or Saturday...and take about 10 days."

He said divers hoped to resume work on the Kursk later on Monday, after a storm halted the project with 16 of 26 planned holes already cut in the hull. Cables will be fitted to the holes and a huge barge, which is due to leave the Netherlands early next week, will haul Kursk to the surface from a depth of 330 ft. (100 m) Zakharov said the Giant-4 barge would take more than two weeks to reach the Arctic site of the Kursk, where it will get ready to lift the vessel -- which is more than twice the length of a jumbo jet.

"Our main task is to be technically ready by mid-September. If we are, then we just have to hope for good weather."

Russian officials have said the Kursk will be in dry dock near the city of Murmansk by September 20, but Zakharov said Giant-4 could take as long as a fortnight to haul the submarine back to port if weather conditions were bad.

"Time is precious to all of us and we understand that the weather can be problematic in September; we just have to do what we have to do," he said, while warning that more problems could crop up along the way.

"This is far from simple work - technically very tricky -- hich no one has ever done before. So it is possible that there will be delays, problems, but we will get over them."

He said tests had shown the Kursk's hull should still be rigid enough to withstand being wrenched off the seabed and that it would take about 12 hours to lift it to the surface.

President Vladimir Putin promised last year to lift the Kursk, so as to return the dead to their families, get its two nuclear reactors off the sea floor and try and find out what sank one of the Russian navy's most advanced submarines.

But environmentalists and other critics say Russia is steadfastly pushing the project this summer and question why it is cutting off the torpedo bay if it really wants to find out why Kursk's torpedoes exploded with such disastrous consequences.

Officials say the front section will be lifted next year. Zakharov said Mammoet had no plans to be involved.

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