Russian Deep-Sea Military Vessel Catches Fire, Killing 14
MOSCOW — Fourteen sailors died in a fire on a deep-sea Russian military vessel, the Russian military said on Tuesday.
The Russian authorities did not say if the vessel was powered by a nuclear reactor, which could raise fears of radiation leaks. But some Russian media, citing military sources, said the stricken vessel was a nuclear-powered submarine.
On Tuesday evening, an official with the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Norway said the agency had taken radiation measurements after the incident but detected nothing unusual, Reuters reported.
The lethal fire broke out on the vessel based at the same Arctic port, Severomorsk, as the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in 2000, killing 118 sailors in a searing tragedy for the Russian Navy that posed an early test of President Vladimir V. Putin’s leadership.
In the Kursk sinking and subsequent accidents in Russia’s submarine fleet, the navy has been slow in acknowledging the gravity of emergencies, the scale of human loss or the environmental threat.
The military announced the latest fire and casualties on Tuesday, but said the accident happened a day earlier. It said the sailors had died from smoke inhalation. The statement offered no explanation for the delayed announcement.
It was not clear if the vessel was submerged at the time of the fire, and the military did not specify its location, other than to say it had been within Russian territorial waters. The Severomorsk base is on the Murmansk Fjord, which opens to the Barents Sea.
The Ministry of Defense issued a statement describing the stricken vessel as a “scientific experimental deep water apparatus intended to study the natural environment and sea floor.”
But some Russian media indicated that the vessel was a spy submarine. In a possible indication of the importance of the vessel or its mission, Mr. Putin said seven of those who died were captains and that two of the dead had received high military honors.
Mr. Putin canceled a planned visit to the provincial city of Tver to remain in the Kremlin, where Russian television showed him directing his defense minister to fly to Severomorsk to oversee the military’s response.
Russian authorities did not say how many people were aboard the vessel at the time of the fire. The Ministry of Defense said the vessel was returned to the base at Severomorsk.
The accident aboard the Kursk in 2000 had proved a difficult moment for Mr. Putin.
The Kursk, a strategic missile submarine powered by twin nuclear reactors, sank after a torpedo exploded during a test launch. The Russian military, threadbare after the Soviet collapse, lacked rescue equipment and waited days before appealing for international help.
The military kept shifting its accounts, saying at one point that the crew had perished instantly. But a note was later found by a crew member who survived long enough to write that 23 sailors were trapped alive.