By Henry Meyer and Stepan Kravchenko (Bloomberg) –The 14 sailors who died during a fire last week on a nuclear-powered Russian military submarine prevented a “planetary catastrophe,” a top naval officer said at their funeral, according to media reports.
Captain Sergei Pavlov, an aide to the commander of Russia’s navy, praised the heroism of the men, who died as they battled to stop the fire from spreading in the submersible.
“With their lives, they saved the lives of their colleagues, saved the vessel and prevented a planetary catastrophe,” he said at the funeral Sunday attended by the navy chief according to the Fontanka news service.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he wasn’t aware of the official’s comments but said there was no indication the incident posed a broader threat. “As for the reactor, there are no problems with that,” he said on a conference call.
Russia broke three days of secrecy July 4 and confirmed that the stricken underwater research vessel was nuclear-powered. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in a meeting shown on state TV that the nuclear reactor on board the vessel had been completely sealed off.
Russian authorities had previously refused to say whether the country’s worst naval incident in more than a decade involved a nuclear-powered vessel. They have also refused to say what type of craft was involved, with the Kremlin calling the information “absolutely classified.” Neighboring Norway contacted Russia for more details though it said it hadn’t detected any increased radiation levels.
The vessel is linked to a secret nuclear-submarine project known as Losharik, RBC news website reported. Russia said the sailors died from smoke inhalation after the fire started while the deep-water submersible was exploring the sea bed in its territorial waters. The craft was later taken to the Russian Northern Fleet’s Severomorsk base on the Barents Sea coast.
The fire was Russia’s most serious naval incident since 20 people died on a Nerpa nuclear submarine in 2008. The Losharik submarine can operate at a depth of 6,000 meters (20,000 feet), according to RBC. The craft reportedly was used to target undersea communications and other cables.
Russia’s worst post-Soviet naval disaster occurred early in Putin’s presidency, in August 2000, when 118 crew died on the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in the Barents Sea after an explosion. The authorities were also accused of a cover-up.
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