Alwaght- Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an inquiry into a fatal incident on board of a Russian deep sea research vehicle near the Arctic that claimed lives of fourteen Russian sailors.
“It is a big loss for the navy, and for the army as a whole,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an unplanned meeting held in the Kremlin.
“It is not an ordinary vessel, as we know, it's a scientific-research vessel, its crew is highly professional,” the Russian leader noted.
Putin said the victims included seven Captain First Rank officers – the most senior staff officers in the Russian navy. Two on board the ill-fated research vessel had been previously awarded the nation’s highest honorary title – the Hero of Russia
Putin told Shoigu to fly to northern city of Severomorsk, which is located on the Kola Peninsula above the Arctic Circle and where the vessel is now at a naval base, to find out what caused the incident and then report back to him.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that “On July 1, a fire broke out during bathymetric measurements on a scientific research deep-sea submersible” in Russia's territorial waters, and 14 crew members died by inhaling poisonous fumes.
The fire has been put out and the vessel is now at a naval base in Severomorsk, the statement added.
Russia’s RBC news outlet, citing an unnamed military source, identified the submarine involved in the incident as Losharik AS-12, which is powered by a nuclear reactor and is designed to carry out special operations at depths where regular submarines cannot operate. The Russian Defense Ministry has not identified the type of the vessel though.
The AS-12 nuclear submarine was launched in 2003. It is designated for research, rescue and special military operations.
Norwegian authorities said they had not detected abnormally high levels of radiation in the wake of the tragedy.
“We have made checks and we are not monitoring too high radiation levels in the area,” Per Strand, a director at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, told Reuters news agency.
He said Russian officials had told his agency that a gas explosion had taken place on board the submarine.
The incident is one of the worst Russian naval disasters since August 2000, when the Kursk nuclear-powered submarine sank following two explosions aboard the vessel, killing all 118 crew members aboard. An inquiry found that a torpedo had exploded, detonating all the sailors.
In 2011, one of Russia's biggest nuclear submarines caught fire while undergoing repairs in dock in the northern Murmansk region.
It was later reported the sub was armed with long-range nuclear missiles, when it caught fire.