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Divers prepare for Kursk mission

Twelve bodies were recovered from the submarine last year  

MOSCOW, Russia -- A team of deep-sea divers have arrived in the Barents Sea to prepare for lifting the sunken Kursk submarine.

The Russian nuclear submarine sank on August 12 last year with 118 crew on board after a series of powerful explosions, which Russian officials said were caused by the vessel's torpedoes.

Itar-Tass news agency reported on Sunday that the Norwegian ship Mayo carrying Russian and Norwegian divers, international experts and equipment was met by operation co-ordinator Vice-Admiral Mikhail Motsak.

Officials were not immediately available to confirm the arrival of the ship, which left the Scottish port of Aberdeen on July 6, Reuters news agency reported.

graphic Raising of the Kursk

  • Russia's military plight
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The tragedy was Russia's worst nuclear submarine accident and a major challenge to then-newly elected President Vladimir Putin.

Putin, strongly criticised at home for not cutting short his vacation after the disaster, has promised to raise the submarine at any cost.

The bodies of 12 sailors were recovered last autumn.

Officials say the Kursk did not carry nuclear weapons and its nuclear reactors were shut down to avoid radiation leaks.

Russia has contracts with Dutch salvage company Mammoet and Rotterdam-based marine services firm Smit International to recover the Kursk.

The companies' joint web site says a special pontoon, 140 metres long and 36 metres wide (460 by 120 feet), will hoist the submarine from the sea bed on 26 cables to just below the surface, and tow it to the Russian port of Murmansk.

The Kursk is lying at a depth of more than 100 metres (330 feet). The salvage is expected to be completed by September 20.

The diving team will cut off the submarine's heavily damaged bow, where torpedoes were stored.

The Mayo, a high-tech diving support ship which has seen regular service in the North Sea oil industry, is owned by the Norwegian-Scottish company DSND Subsea, based in Aberdeen.

Environmentalists have urged Russia to bury the sub under concrete or at least take more time to prepare for the risky undertaking.

• Kursk Foundation
• Russian Government

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