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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Kursk investigators examine sub
The conning tower of the Kursk submarine
Smashed windows give an idea of the chaos inside
The Russian Prosecutor General has led a team of investigators onto the deck of the Kursk for the first time since the nuclear submarine was raised from the muddy bed of the Barents Sea.

It will be another three days before the submarine has dried out sufficiently for the team to enter the inside of the wreck, which they will scour for clues as to what caused the vessel to explode and sink over a year ago.

They will also be faced with the grim task of recovering the remains of more than 100 men who died on board.

Wreaths were lowered into the water as the submarine was brought into dock to honour those who lost their lives.

Without examining the bow of the boat, it is impossible to completely clarify the cause of the disaster

Vladimir Ustinov
Russian Prosecutor General
Once the initial inspection has been carried out, the crucial task remains of dismantling the two nuclear reactors and the 22 cruise missiles that were the Kursk's main armament.

Toxic gases

The BBC's Stephen Dalziel in Moscow says the smashed windows and broken cables visible from the outside are just a small indication of the chaos which the 40-strong team expects to find when it enters the wreck.

Russian naval officer Vice-Admiral Mikhail Motsak uses radio as barge enters Roslyakovo dock
The wreck was dragged into dock by a giant barge
The investigators will have to don protective suits and gas masks since toxic fumes have built up in the vessel during its 14 months at the bottom of the sea.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov says his team will be on the look-out for journals and notes taken by crew members, and has warned that if any senior naval officers are found guilty of causing the loss of the Kursk, they will "bear responsibility regardless of their years of service".

The green light for the investigation was given after the wreck was detached from a giant barge which had towed it into dry dock in the Arctic port of Roslyakovo after it was lifted from the bed of the Barents Sea earlier this month.

Salvage to continue

But Mr Ustinov admits that the inquiry will eventually have to focus on the bow of the Kursk - still to be removed from the seabed.

"Without examining the bow of the boat, it is impossible to completely clarify the cause of the disaster," he said before leaving Moscow.

The Russian authorities have said they will try to recover the bow next year. But Vice-Admiral Mikhail Barskov, the officer charged with the recovery of the Kursk, has already said it is in such a poor condition it cannot be lifted as a whole.

The bow had been cut from the main part of the Kursk because of the danger posed by the torpedoes. Some experts believe that the explosions which destroyed the submarine probably originated there.

Theories to explain the disaster include the explosion of a faulty torpedo in the bow and a collision with another submarine or old anti-shipping mine.

One contentious theory, carried by some Russian and German media, is that the submarine was hit by a missile fired in error by a Russian warship during exercises.

The BBC's Robert Parsons
"The task ahead is grim"
The BBC's Stephen Dalziel in Moscow
"The real work lies ahead"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | Scotland
Tribute paid to Kursk victims
11 Oct 01 | UK
'I helped raise the Kursk'
07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
New theory for Kursk sinking
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