Fourteen sailors killed in Russia submersible fire: Defence Ministry

Moscow, RussiaUpdated: Jul 02, 2019, 10:35 PM IST

Russian navy (File Photo) Photograph:(AFP)

Story highlights

The deep-sea research vessel was carrying out a military survey in Russian territorial waters.

Fourteen Russian sailors on board a deep water research sub were killed in a fire while carrying out a survey of the sea floor, the Russian defence ministry was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

A Russian news outlet, RBC, cited an unnamed military source as saying the vessel was a nuclear-powered AS-12 deep sea submarine, but there was no official confirmation of that.

The incident took place on Monday in Russian territorial waters and the fire has been extinguished. The vessel is now at the Russian Northern Fleet`s base in Severomorsk on the Barents Sea, and an investigation has been launched into the cause, agencies Interfax, RIA and TASS quoted the ministry as saying.

"Fire broke out on board a deep-water scientific research vessel that was studying the marine environment of the world ocean on behalf of the Russian navy," Interfax cited a ministry statement as saying. "Fourteen submariners died as the result of smoke inhalation."

The statement as cited by the agencies did not identify the type or model of the vessel.

President Vladimir Putin cancelled a public engagement planned for Tuesday afternoon and was to meet Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, RIA reported.

In August 2000, the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk sank to the floor of Barents Sea after two explosions in its bow, killing all 118 men aboard.

Military accidents

That accident, soon after Putin took office, focussed official attention on the state of the military and its hardware, which had been subject to underfunding and neglect after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since then, Putin has overseen a massive increase in military funding that has allowed the armed forces to renew their equipment and improve training and morale.

However, accidents have continued to happen as the military, used by the Kremlin to project its growing international muscle, has ramped up its activities and extended into new theatres of operation.

In December 2016, a Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, crashed into the Black Sea en route to Syria where Russian forces are deployed. Everyone on board was killed.

Russia`s military has been developing new submarines as part of a broader push for new defence hardware under Putin that has also included hypersonic missiles and naval drones.

US media have cited Pentagon officials as saying they are concerned about the increased activities of Russian submarines and spy ships operating in the ocean off the US coastline.

According to an archived report in Russian newspaper Izvestia, the AS-12 submarine was first launched in 2003 and is known by the nickname "Losharik." 

The vessel is specially designed to be able to operate at depths inaccessible for regular submarines, according to the newspaper, and can be used to carry out special operations. 

It is made out of a series of inter-connected spheres, which are stronger than the conventional submarine construction and allow the AS-12 to resist water pressure.

The plant that built the vessel declined to disclose any details about it, citing secrecy rules, Izvestia reported.