Putin Orders Defense Chief to Region After 14 Sailors Killed In Fire On Russian Submersible
(Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty; posted July 02, 2019)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the country’s defense chief to travel to a northern naval base to conduct a probe after a fire on what the Kremlin described as a deep-sea "research submersible" killed 14 crew members.

Putin on July 2 called in the incident a “terrific loss” and told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to “personally hear reports” and direct the Investigative Committee to “definitely establish the causes behind this tragedy."

Putin’s meeting with Shoigu came after the Defense Ministry said earlier in the day that 14 sailors were killed when a fire broke out on July 1 aboard a submersible that the ministry said was carrying out "research" work in Russian territorial waters.

It was one of the worst Russian naval disasters since 2000, when the Kursk nuclear-powered submarine sank following two explosions aboard the vessel, killing all 118 crew members aboard.

Russia’s RBC news outlet quoted a military source as identifying the vessel in the latest incident as the Losharik AS-12 nuclear-powered submarine, although the Defense Ministry has not identified the type of vessel involved.

When the Losharik was launched in the early 2000s, details of the vessels were considered highly secret. One report said it was capable of diving 2,500 meters under the sea.

Russian media reported that the Losharik is carried under the hull of a mother submarine, the nuclear-powered Belgorod.

Russia in April launched the special-purpose Belgorod, which is believed capable of carrying nuclear-tipped underwater drones capable of threatening U.S. coastal cities.

The RBC report said the incident occurred in the evening hours of July 1.

Per Strand, a director at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, told Reuters that his agency had not seen any raised levels of radiation in the area of the submarine accident. He said Norwegian authorities had been told by their Russian counterparts that a “gas explosion” had occurred on board the vessel.

The Russian Defense Ministry later denied making any comment about a “gas explosion.” The discrepancy was not immediately explained.

A Russian Defense Ministry statement said that the sailors died as a result of inhaling combustible fumes aboard the research vessel, which was conducting measurements on the floor of the ocean.

The report did not say how many crew members were aboard. It said the fire was put out by other crew members.

The submersible is now at a navy base in the northwestern city of Severomorsk near Murmansk on the Barents Sea, officials said.

An investigation has been launched, the ministry said.

AFP cited a military expert speaking on condition of anonymity as doubting that the vessel was on a scientific research mission.

"Usually it's a cover for different type of work conducted on the seabed," like laying cables, the expert said.

Russia has suffered several deadly submarine incidents over the past two decades, as well as a rash of fires during decommissioning at ports.

In the deadliest submarine incident since the Kursk, 20 Russian sailors and shipyard workers died aboard the submarine K-152 Nerpa when the fire-extinguishing system accidentally activated, causing suffocation.


Meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu
(Source: The Kremlin; issued July 02, 2019)
MOSCOW --- The Defence Minister reported to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief on the fire on the Northern Fleet deep-water research submersible in the Barents Sea, which killed 14 sailors.

Vladimir Putin conveyed his sincere condolences to the families of the dead and gave instructions on providing them with assistance and support.

* * *


-- President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, go ahead please.

-- Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: Mr President,

As we reported to you yesterday, a fire occurred aboard a deep-water research submersible in the Northern Fleet, which was carrying out seabed research in Russian territorial waters in the Barents Sea. Fourteen crew members died of smoke inhalation.

The crew extinguished the fire through their decisive action. At present, the deep water submersible is at the Severomorsk Navy Base. It is being inspected to establish the cause of the accident. A commission headed by Navy Admiral Yevmenov has been appointed to investigate this tragedy.

-- Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, this is an unusual vessel. We both know that this is a research vessel with a highly professional crew. From your preliminary reports, of the 14 killed, seven were captains and two were Heroes of Russia. This is a huge loss for the fleet and the military in general.

I would like to convey my most sincere condolences to the families of the dead. We must do everything we can to provide assistance and support for them.

I would like to ask you to leave for Severomorsk to personally review the reports and make sure the commission reveals the cause of this tragedy by any means necessary. Please report to me personally on this issue upon your return.

-- Sergei Shoigu: Yes, sir.


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