Attempts to save the crew of Russia’s Kursk nuclear submarine were doomed by mistakes and sloppiness, not least the failure of a top admiral to realise anything had gone wrong, a government report has revealed.
The submarine was crippled by internal torpedo explosions in August 2000 and sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea, killing all 118 men on board.
Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, commander of the Northern Fleet, was on his flagship nearby when two huge blasts beneath the waves sent his big vessel rocking back and forth.
But he ignored the explosions and led his cruiser, Peter the Great, away from the disaster area, the prosecutor’s report said.
It was nine hours before he eventually launched a search for the Kursk, and it was another 31 hours before it was found lying on the sea-bed.
Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov’s official inquiry into the disaster, reported by Russian media today, catalogued a string of failures.
Parts of the torpedo that leaked and caused the explosions may have been six years past their shelf life, investigators found.
The torpedo was checked and loaded onto the submarine by navy staff who were not authorised for the job.
And the order allowing the Kursk crew to use the torpedoes was issued by navy officers who did not have the right to sign such documents.
If the submarine’s emergency buoy had been working properly, the vessel would have been found much more quickly.
Russian rescue submarines spent a week trying to connect to the Kursk’s escape hatch, as officials in Moscow rebuffed Western offers of help.
The local rescue crews had not had proper training and lacked supplies and spares even if they had.
British divers were able to open the escape hatch within hours of finally being called in – but by then it was too late.
But Ustinov said no one could be blamed directly for the tragedy.