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Blasts near Kursk 'to keep snoopers away'

MOSCOW, Russia -- Blasts in the area of the Barents Sea where a Russian nuclear submarine sank could be an attempt by the Russian navy to keep submarines from other countries snooping around the wreck, officials say.

The Norwegian Norsar seismological observatory said it had recently detected about 40 "relatively weak seismic signals" near the wreck of the Kursk, which sank on August 12, killing all 118 seamen aboard.

"The sources of these signals are assumed to be small, controlled explosions. The purpose of these explosions is unknown, but in Norsar's assessment a possible explanation might be that the Russian military wants to keep foreign submarines away from the area," the observatory said.

Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky said in televised comments the blasts came from depth charges and grenades which were used routinely to ensure security of ships patrolling the area.

"All countries in the area and fishing companies have been advised about the operation in advance and it is completely safe as far as ecology is concerned," he said.

Norsar said the blasts had been detected since September and their magnitude ranged from between one and three on the open-ended Richter scale, used to measure earthquakes on land.

Norsar had previously said it detected two bigger blasts on August 12 when the Kursk sank and said the explosions could back up theories that a blast in a torpedo caused the high-tech submarine to sink.

Russian military sources have suggested the Kursk collided with a submarine in the region to snoop on its military exercises.

Western officials have said a blast in the Kursk's own torpedo system was the more likely explanation for the tragedy.

The Norwegian armed forces said the frequency of explosions in the area of the submarine was higher than normal.

Navrotsky said Russian ships would be patrolling the area pending an operation to take the Kursk to shallow waters, planned for next summer.

Earlier this month Russia undertook an operation to retrieve the bodies of the Kursk crew, but massive destruction inside the submarine forced Russian and Norwegian divers to abandon the operation last week after lifting 12 bodies.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Russia looks to raise the Kursk
November 10, 2000
Second Kursk note tells of fire
November 9, 2000
Divers reach sunken Kursk submarine
October 21, 2000

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