First stage Kursk salvage complete
MURMANSK, Russia -- Debris has been cleared from the sunken Kursk submarine to allow the main phase of the salvage operation to proceed.
The salvage team has been using an unmanned remote-controlled vessel to clear sand and silt from the damaged front compartment which may contain unexploded torpedoes.
In the second stage of the operation the compartment is to be detached from the submarine by robots and left on the bottom of the Barents Sea while the rest of the submarine is raised.
The Kursk, which has two nuclear reactors aboard, sank killing all 118 crewmen, during a training exercise in the Arctic waters off northern Russia last August.
Russia has maintained that no radiation has leaked from the wreck but says the two-month salvage operation is to ensure it poses no future danger.
The disaster was triggered by a practice torpedo say Russian officials, but they remain uncertain whether this was caused by an internal malfunction in the torpedo -- the theory backed by most international experts -- or a collision.
With the cleaning operation complete, the high-tech dive support ship Mayo left for the Norwegian port of Kirkenes where it will pick up cutting equipment for the next phase of work, Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The next part of the operation sees holes drilled in the hull and steel cables attached by Russian and foreign divers to lift the vessel -- an operation tentatively set for September 15.
A special pontoon, 140 metres long and 36 metres wide (460 by 120 feet), will hoist the submarine on 26 cables to just below the sea's surface, and tow it to the Russian port of Murmansk.
Russia has contracted Dutch salvage company Mammoet and marine services firm Smit International to recover the Kursk from a depth of 100 metres (330 feet).
On Wednesday Vyacheslav Zakharov, the head of Mammoet's Moscow office, was quoted by Reuters saying that the operation's main problem was a lack of communication between all parties involved.
"There are a lot of people and companies engaged in this operation, and not all the people know the actual schedule."
The operation has proceeded despite opposition from some environmental groups, which have urged Russia to bury the sub under concrete or at least take more time to prepare for the risky undertaking.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a pledge to bereaved relatives that the Kursk would be recovered as soon as possible -- at any cost -- to allow them to bury their love ones remains. Only 12 bodies were able to be pulled from the submarine last year.
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