More than 100 Russian sailors are reportedly trapped in their nuclear-powered submarine on the sea bed off northern Russia, after technical faults apparently forced them to shut down the nuclear reactor, the navy said. Reuters reported that Russia's independent NTV television station said the cause of the accident was flooding of the torpedo tubes and front section of the submarine Kursk, and said a power shutdown might lead to problems with oxygen supplies. The navy could not be contacted to confirm the details of the accident.
The head of the navy's press office, Igor Dygalo, said earlier that unspecified technical faults had forced the Kursk to settle on the sea bed after training exercises in the Barents Sea, most of which lies in the Arctic circle north of European Russia. He gave no details of the depth or location of the Kursk, classed as Antyei in Russia and Oscar-2 by NATO, but said no nuclear weapons were on board.
He said the submarine's nuclear reactor had been shut down and there were no radiation leaks, and that rescue vessels
had rushed to the scene.
A reporter for NTV speaking from the Northern Fleet's base of Severomorsk said the crew of the Kursk had had to ground the vessel on the sea bed after its torpedo tubes and front section flooded.
The reporter gave no source for his information. He also said a power shutdown on the vessel might lead to problems with supplies of oxygen on board.
The Norwegian environmental group Bellona said on its web site (www.bellona.no) that rescue efforts could be hampered by the power shutdown.
It quoted former Russian naval officer Alexander Nikitin, who works for Bellona and was recently cleared by a Russian court of spying, as saying that if the submarine was at a depth of more than 100 m it would be difficult to use the Kursk's ballast tanks to refloat it.
Nikitin was quoted as saying that Oscar-2 class submarines did not have rescue capsules to take the crew to the surface and that deep-diving rescue submarines would have to be used.
Interfax news agency said the Kursk came into service in 1995 and had 107 people on board, including 52 officers. Itar-Tass said its class of submarine could carry up to 130 men.
The defense ministry of Norway, which has territorial waters in the Barents, said it had no information about the incident. One of the most serious recent submarine disasters was off Norway's north coast in 1989, when a Soviet Mike class nuclear subm
arine, the Komsomolets, sank after fires on board. A total of 42 crew died in the accident. Norway says the sunken submarine's nuclear reactor and torpedoes are still slowly leaking plutonium into the water.
The latest edition of the Military Balance, a guide to the world's armed forces by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Oscar class subm
arines can carry 24 Shipwreck underwater-to-surface guided missiles and heavy water torpedoes. The missiles can be loaded with conventional or nuclear warheads, the book said.