A British remote-controlled vehicle cut loose a Russian mini-submarine that had been snarled on undersea cables for three days deep in the Pacific, and it surfaced today with its crew safe.
All seven aboard the AS-28 mini-submarine appeared to be in satisfactory condition, naval spokesman Captain Igor Dygalo said.
About five hours after their rescue, six of them were brought to a hospital on the mainland for examination, waving to relatives as they went in. The seventh was kept aboard a hospital ship for unspecified reasons.
At the edge of the gangplank leading off the ship that brought the crew to shore, mini-sub commander Lieutenant Vyacheslav Milashevsky held a long and solemn salute, then a slight smile crossed his face.
Pale, but walking confidently, he responded “fine” when journalists clamoured to know how he felt.
He climbed into a van for the trip to the hospital.
His wife, Yelena, said earlier that she was overjoyed at news the crew had been rescued. “My feelings danced. I was happy, I cried,” she told Channel One television.
“I can only thank our English colleagues for their joint work and the help they gave in order to complete this operation within the time we had available - that is, before the oxygen reserves ran out,” Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the navy’s general staff, told reporters in Moscow.
Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who went to Kamchatka to supervise the operation, praised the international efforts and said, “We have seen in deeds, not in words, what the brotherhood of the sea means.”
The red-and-white-striped sub surfaced at around 4:26pm local time (2:26am Irish time), some three days after becoming stranded in 190 metres (600 feet) of water off the Pacific Coast. It was carrying six sailors and a representative of the company that manufactured it.
Earlier, Russian ships had tried to tow the sub and its entanglements to shallower water where divers could reach it, but were able to move it only about 60-100 yards in the Beryozovaya Bay about 10 miles off the Kamchatka coast.
Putin’s silence about the sub crisis echoed his stance during the sinking of the Kursk, when he remained on vacation as the disaster unfolded. Critics said he appeared either callous or ineffectual.
The new crisis indicated that Putin’s promises to improve the navy’s equipment apparently have had little effect. He was sharply criticised for his slow response to the Kursk crisis and reluctance to accept foreign assistance.
New criticism arose within hours of today’s rescue. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the nationalist Rodina party in the lower house of parliament, said he would demand an assessment from the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the navy’s performance in the incident, the Interfax news agency reported.
Rogozin said he wants to know why Russia has not acquired underwater vehicles similar to the ones provided by Britain and the US and “why fishing nets and cables litter the area of naval manoeuvres".
“It appears the naval command is not in control of the area of naval exercises,” he said, according to Interfax.