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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 15:56 GMT
First Kursk missiles removed
Investigators on the deck of the Kursk
Investigators are working round the clock in shifts
Russian salvage workers have removed the first three of 22 Granit cruise missiles from the Kursk nuclear submarine.

"The operation followed normal procedure, just as it would with any other submarine," an official of the Northern Fleet told the AFP news agency.


People are hellishly tired, but nothing can make them leave the wreck

Leonid Troshin, prosecutors' spokesman
Experts expressed fears, as the submarine was being lifted from the sea bed, that any sharp movement could cause a damaged missile to explode.

Russian officials have always denied that the missiles are carrying nuclear warheads.

The Kursk, one of Russia's most advanced submarines, sank after two mysterious explosions during military exercises in the Barents Sea in August 2000 with the loss of all 118 men on board.

Tired

So far 45 bodies have been removed the submarine since it was lifted into dry dock last week.

Of these 25 have been identified, and seven have been flown out to relatives.

Click here to see a graphic of the inside of the Kursk

Another 12 bodies were removed last year.

Investigators have been working round the clock in shifts.

Sailor stands by coffin
Seven of the bodies have been returned to relatives
"People are hellishly tired, but nothing can make them leave the wreck," said Leonid Troshin, spokesman for prosecutor general Vladimir Ustinov.

Mr Ustinov, who is leading the investigation, described on Saturday the "hell" that followed the explosions as fire swept through the submarine.

The flames would have been quenched by the icy water that flooded the Kursk within seven to eight hours, but any attempt to rescue crew members who fled to the rear of the boat would have been futile, he said.

Missile questions

Mr Troshin said the search for bodies was now focused on the middle of the vessel, as there were none left in the three sections closest to the stern.

Mr Troshin said work was stopped briefly on Monday because some compartments had to be cleared of high concentrations of lethal hydrogen sulfite.

Investigators also could not reach a section connecting the two compartments containing the submarine's two nuclear reactors as it was filled with debris from the blasts, he said.

Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer has questioned the official line that there were no nuclear warheads on board the Kursk.

He points out that immediately after the Barents Sea exercises, the submarine had been due to leave for the Mediterranean on an expedition for which it would certainly have been armed with nuclear missiles.

Investigators believe the wreck will provide many clues to the cause of the blasts, but say a definitive answer may only become possible when the bow section is raised.

It was sawn off and left on the seabed and is due to be raised next year.

The three official alternative versions are an on-board accident, a collision with another vessel and a wartime mine.



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26 Oct 01 | Europe

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