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Tuesday, August 22, 2000

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All aboard Russian sub dead


By Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW, AUG. 21. Ten days after the Russian nuclear submarine ``Kursk'' sank in the Barents Sea, an international rescue operation was called off after divers said there were no survivors on board.

The Norwegian divers drew this conclusion on Monday after they finally succeeded in opening the escape hatch in the ship's rear to find the ninth compartment filled with water, Russian television said. Norwegian rescuers said the submarine was completely flooded and none of its 118 crew alive. They pressed the Russian side to call off the rescue operation, RTR television said.

However, Russian authorities said the operation should continue as there was still hope some sailors could still be alive in the sixth, seventh and eighth compartments.

The chief spokesman of the Northern Fleet said at a press conference in Severomorsk that hope could not be discarded until all compartments were examined. He rejected an earlier statement by Admiral Mikhail Motsak, chief of staff of the Northern fleet, that ``not a single member of the crew is alive''.

Rescuers were now examining the ninth compartment with the help of remote-controlled camera. The RTR television said a body of a sailor was found near the hatch and that a remote- controlled manipulator would try and retrieve it.

A British rescue mini-submarine rushed to the site was never deployed after divers felt it could do little to help. Officials said the emphasis now would be on recovering the sailors' bodies and that Moscow had asked Norwegian divers to help in the task.

The Russian President, Mr. Vladimir Putin, on Monday tripled funds for the victims' kin to an amount equal to $ 54,000. He said they had to be helped with money for accommodation, transport and telephone calls. Psychologists are also being sent to the Kursk's base at Vedyaevo on the Barents Sea to help counsel the sailors' relatives.

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