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The BBC's Robert Parsons in Murmansk
"It's not going to be an instant rescue"
 real 56k

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"There could be serious radiation problems"
 real 56k

British rescue team, Cmdr Alan Hoskins
"Ready to face whatever circumstances we find."
 real 56k

Friday, 18 August, 2000, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Race to save stricken sub
The Norwegian ship Normand Pioneer
The Norwegian ship Normand Pioneer will carry the LR5
British and Norwegian rescue crews are sailing to the Arctic circle in a race to save the crew of a crippled Russian submarine.

Norwegian deep sea divers and a British mini-submarine and rescue team are expected to take two days to reach their destination in the Barents Sea.

The situation was described by the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as "close to catastrophic" as he opened a session of the Russian Government, following the nuclear vessel's fifth night on the seabed.

The Kursk sank during military exercises on Saturday, apparently as a result of an explosion on board.


The crew was thought to have enough oxygen to last until Friday, although the Russian navy has now revised that estimate to nine days - until 25 August.

So far, attempts by Russian rescue capsules to dock with the Kursk, have been frustrated by strong underwater currents and poor visibility, though the weather is improving.

The Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev says he now has irrefutable data showing that the submarine hit an underwater object.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the acceptance of western assistance amid growing concern about the fate of the 118 seamen on board. A Russian commission meets shortly to decide how to proceed with the rescue attempt.

Hope

Hopes have been fading for the submariners aboard. Mr Kasyanov said: "One would like to hope that there are chances of saving the crew."

"Last night there were no major changes, neither for the worse, nor for the better."

Kursk timeline
Saturday: Sinks in Barents Sea during exercises
Monday: Russian navy inspects stricken sub
Tuesday: Attempts to attach rescue capsule fail
Wednesday: Russians report no signs of life in the Kursk. Accept help from the West
Thursday: British and Norwegian craft readied for rescue attempt
The British LR5 mini-sub and other rescue material, including portable decompression was loaded on to a cargo ship at the Norwegian port of Trondheim before dawn on Thursday.

Commander Tony Johns from the rescue team's headquarters in Bath, England told BBC One's Breakfast News the team had made good progress overnight and was currently travelling at 17 knots.

"Our role is to go and assist the Russians with retrieving any submarine crew members that are alive.

"If that is not the case, unfortunately, our role will have to be discussed with the appropriate authorities," he said.

The LR5 has never been used in a real rescue operation, but it was designed for just such a life-or-death situation as that facing the crippled Russian craft.

It has also successfully docked with a Polish submarine of the same basic Soviet design as the Kursk.

The Russians said there was no sign of life aboard the submarine on Wednesday, but that this did not mean that there were no survivors.

Anguish

The Russian navy has denied US reports that at least two explosions caused the vessel to sink, but has refused to comment further.

President Putin was reported to have consulted with US President Bill Clinton on the rescue mission.

Russian TV graphic
A graphic from Russian TV showing the difficulty of the rescue mission
Russia's press had earlier accused the Russian Navy of risking the crew's lives, saying navy chiefs had refused Nato help out of pride.

As the uncertainty continued, families of the trapped sailors described their anguish as a living "hell".

"The worst thing is the lack of information," said Galina, whose commander husband Viktor Belogunya is among those trapped.

The LR5 sub is a 33ft-long craft described as an "underwater helicopter", with a sophisticated camera system and an array of debris-clearing tools.

Another western ship is heading for the scene. Stolt Offshore, which is based in Aberdeen, Scotland, was asked to send its diving support vessel Seaway Eagle to the Barents Sea.

Its precise role is not yet clear.

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See also:

17 Aug 00 | Europe
What went wrong?
17 Aug 00 | Media reports
Press pressures Putin
16 Aug 00 | Europe
Life of danger beneath the waves
16 Aug 00 | UK
Rescue sub 'one of a kind'
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