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Kursk Enquiry Ends, No Charges Made

Published: July 30, 2002 (Issue # 790)


MOSCOW - Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov closed a criminal investigation into the Kursk nuclear-submarine sinking Friday, saying nobody would be charged because the disaster was caused by a technical malfunction - leaky torpedo propellant.

Ustinov also defended the Kremlin's handling of the botched rescue efforts, saying that all 118 sailors aboard died within eight hours after the Kursk sank in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000, long before any help could arrive.

"The disaster occurred at 11:28 and 26.5 seconds, Moscow time, because of the explosion of a practice torpedo inside the fourth torpedo tube," Ustinov said at a news conference. Within two minutes and 18 seconds after the first blast, other combat weapons detonated in a powerful explosions that threw the submarine to the seabed and killed most of its crew.

When the navy located the submarine on the seabed some 30 hours after the catastrophe, "there was already no chance to save anyone," he said, speaking after reporting his verdict to President Vladimir Putin.

He insisted that no one was to blame for the torpedo's malfunction. A government commission had previously pointed at a leaky torpedo as the only possible cause.

"The investigators have decided to close the criminal case since no evidence of a crime has been found," Ustinov said. "Those who designed the torpedo couldn't foresee the possibility of its explosion."

He dismissed allegations that the navy could have triggered the disaster by damaging the torpedo while loading it onto the Kursk. "There is no evidence and no testimony that the torpedo was dropped," Ustinov said.

He said the torpedo exploded suddenly as the Kursk was moving under periscope close to the surface, preparing for a practice torpedo attack. He said the recovered shiplog and crew conversation recorders contained no sign of anything awry.

Stanislav Proshkin, the head of the Gidropribor research institute that designed the torpedo, challenged the verdict in remarks carried by the Interfax-Military News Agency. He said the weapon could only have exploded after an internal impact, most likely a fire in the bow.

Ustinov said the Northern Fleet chief and several other top naval officials fired last fall were ousted for flaws in organizing the exercise the Kursk had been taking part in that "weren't directly linked" to the disaster.

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