Index

European Stars and Stripes
August 16, 2000
Pg. 2

Pentagon Says U.S. Not Asked For Help

By Ward Sanderson, Stars and Stripes

The Pentagon on Tuesday said Russians have not asked for help in rescuing the more than 100 crew members stranded inside their sunken submarine, the Kursk.

The Russian navy had said the sub sank about 350 feet below the Barents Sea after a collision on Sunday. The Kursk was participating in naval exercises when it struck something, they said, although now they believe it might have been an on-board explosion and not a collision. The Russians have not elaborated.

"I don’t think anyone knows what happened to it," said Lt. Douglas Gabos, deputy spokesman for the Navy in Europe. However, officials do know Americans were not involved.

Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Cooper, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that whatever caused the Kursk to sink was not a collision with an American vessel, though the U.S. surveillance ship Loyal was in the area monitoring the exercises.

The U.S. military is prepared to offer assistance to the Russian navy if it is requested, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary William Cohen sent a letter Tuesday morning to his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeyev, offering help ranging from rescue equipment to medical advise, Quigley said.

The Navy has prepared one of two "Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles" that can be flown to the site in the Barents Sea from a base near San Diego, Calif., he said.

So far, however, the Russian government has denied the offer for help, telling U.S. officials that they have all the needed equipment, he said.

The Navy has an advanced submarine rescue program, and the Russians do not. Using a "Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle," teams can dive a weighty 5,000 feet below the sea — far deeper than the stranded and listing Kursk. The rescue vehicle can travel by truck, plane, ship or piggyback atop another submarine.

When in action, the craft attaches itself to a disabled sub’s "rescue seat," providing an airtight fit from hatch-to-hatch. It has a crew of four, but can be operated remotely. It even has a robotic arm for clearing jammed hatches. It can hold 24 accident victims per trip. Were one to attempt a Kursk rescue, it would need to make multiple dives.

The U.S. Navy’s interest in submarine rescue began in 1927, when it lost a submarine crew to a collision in 1927. The next year, the Navy began research to develop a rescue craft. The first was unveiled in 1931.

The most serious U.S. submarine accident was the loss of the Thresher and its 129 men off New England in 1963. The sub had gone to sea without proper safety precautions. In 1968, the Scorpion, an attack sub, was lost off the Azores, killing all 99 aboard.

In recent years, the Navy has reported few submarine accidents, and none so severe as the major accidents in the ’60s. However, all of the accidents have been collisions rather than malfunctions.

* The Memphis struck a coral reef off Florida in 1993, killing no one but costing $750,000 in environmental damages. After participating in the filming of The Hunt for Red October in 1989, the Houston snagged a tugboat cable, killing three of the tug’s crew.

* In 1986, the Nathaniel Green — armed with nuclear missiles — ran aground in the Irish Sea. No one was hurt, but Nathaniel Green was scrapped.

* The Jacksonville collided with a Turkish freighter off Virginia in 1982, denting itself to the tune of $2 million.

* A missile sub, the George Washington, ran into a Japanese freighter in 1981, killing two ship crewmembers.

The Russians have fared worse, at least in severity. Forty-two Soviet sailors died in 1989 when their sub sank off Norway. In 1983, a Soviet sub sank in the northern Pacific, killing 90. Three Soviet sailors died in 1986 after their sub sank off Bermuda in 1986.