Friday, August 05, 2005

Russian mini-submarine trapped on sea floor

The Globe and Mail - Vladivostok, Russia — A Russian naval mini-submarine with seven sailors aboard was trapped Friday on the sea floor off the Pacific Coast after becoming caught on a fishing net, navy officials said.

How long the oxygen aboard would last was unclear as navy authorities scrambled to try to figure out how to raise the vessel from a depth of some 190 metres.

Navy spokesman Captain Igor Dygalo said the U.S. Navy has been asked for assistance, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported. There were no immediate details on what kind of help the United States could provide.

In televised comments, Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Alexander Kosolapov said there was contact with the sailors, who were not hurt, and that authorities were preparing to send down a similar vessel to assess the situation.

The vessel was trapped after its propeller caught on a fishnet Thursday, Captain Dygalo said.

The vessel was too deep to allow the sailors to swim to the surface on their own, officials said, and conflicting statements from officials indicated there was enough oxygen in the vessel to last between one and five days.

The Interfax news agency quoted Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Viktor Dmitriev as saying the vessel had enough oxygen and electrical power to last 48 hours. It also quoted an unidentified high-level navy general staff official as saying that with a crew of seven, oxygen aboard the vessel would only last two days after its launch. The vessels normally have a crew of three.

Captain Kosolapov, however, said there was likely enough air to last about four days, because such vessels typically have oxygen supplies for 120 hours -- five days -- and the accident occurred early Thursday when it was launched from a rescue ship during a combat training exercise.

An official in the regional military prosecutor's office, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the mini-submarine's oxygen could last one more day. But he and other officials said there were also individual breathing equipment systems on board.

Captain Kosolapov said the navy would examine ways to bring the vessel, also called a bathyscaph, to the surface and that nine warships were in the area to aid the rescue operation. Captain Dygalo said there was enough food and water on the vessel to last the sailors five days.

The military prosecutor's office official said the vessel was in Beryozovaya Bay, about 200 kilometres south of Kamchatka's capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, while Interfax said it was 75 kilometres from the city.