Russian news agencies have reported that Japan is to send four ships to help rescue seven Russian sailors trapped on a naval mini-submarine on the sea floor off the Pacific Coast.
The vessel was trapped after its propeller caught on a fishnet yesterday.
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 625 feet.
Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the US Navy had also been asked for assistance, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported. There were no immediate details on what kind of help the US could provide.
In televised comments, Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Alexander Kosolapov said there was contact with the sailors, who were not hurt, and authorities were preparing to send down a similar vessel to assess the situation.
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 Adm. 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.
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 yesterday when it was launched from a rescue ship during a combat training exercise.
An official in the regional military prosecutor’s office 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.
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. 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 125 miles south of Kamchatka’s capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, while Interfax said it was 47 miles from the city.
The accident occurred almost exactly five years after the nuclear submarine Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea after explosions on board, killing all 118 seamen aboard in a painful blow to the Russian navy. Some of the Kursk’s sailors survived for hours after the accident as oxygen ran out, and Russian authorities came under sharp criticism for their handling of the crisis.
The same type of vessel, called a Priz, was used in the rescue efforts that followed the Kursk disaster, Interfax reported.
Priz vessels look like small submarines. They are about 44 feet long and 18.7 feet high and can dive to depths below 1,640 feet.