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Holes cut in to Kursk hull

Support ships are anchored near the accident site  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Divers at the bottom of the Barents Sea have begun cutting holes in the hull of the Kursk to help lift the sunken Russian nuclear submarine, reports have said.

The holes were cut in the outer hull on Sunday by diving teams that had been working on the wreck around-the-clock in six-hour shifts since Saturday, Interfax news agency said.

Steel cables will then be attached to the hull so it can be hoisted to the surface.

The Kursk, which has two nuclear reactors aboard, sank during a training exercise in the Arctic waters off northern Russia last August, killing all 118 crewmen.

CNN's Jill Dougherty reports on the operation and environmental concerns (July 17)

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The first group of divers had been lowered in a diving bell to the site of the wreck at 2100 GMT on Friday to stencil the holes, navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said.

A second group followed six hours later with cutting equipment and a third crew was to follow to begin the actual cutting.

Dygalo said in a statement: "The operation to raise the Kursk is going to plan."

The cables are expected to be attached on 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, when it will be towed to the Russian port of Murmansk.

Russia has contracted Dutch salvage company Mammoet and marine services firm Smit International to recover the Kursk.

The international team of 16 deep-sea divers -- from Great Britain, Russia and the United States -- will work around the clock to begin preparing the Russian nuclear submarine for salvage, a spokesman for the diving company told CNN.

Working in teams of three, the divers for DSND Subsea will work in six-hour shifts at a depth of 100 metres (330 feet) over the next few weeks.

The divers will use two diving bells to ferry between the Mayo, the Norwegian diving support ship charged with carrying out the diving operation, and the submarine.

Each diving bell will transport three divers. While three divers are in the open water working on the vessel, three other divers will remain ready to support them in case of trouble.

When they are not working, the divers will spend all of their time in special saturation chambers on board the Mayo pressurized to the depth they will be working at. Another nine divers -- not under pressure -- will remain on board the Mayo in reserve.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, strongly criticised at home for not cutting short his vacation at the time of the tragedy, has told relatives of the crew the Kursk will be raised this year at any cost.

Russian and Norwegian divers retrieved 12 bodies from the Kursk in November but their mission was called off because of rough weather and the danger from broken equipment inside the submarine.

Officials found a note in the pocket of one of the recovered submariners saying that 23 sailors had remained trapped alive in the ninth compartment for several hours after the Kursk sank.

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.

Putin told journalists last week that Russia had an obligation to lift the Kursk to bring those remains home, determine the cause of the accident, and remove its two nuclear reactors from the Barents Sea.

• Kursk Foundation
• Russian Government

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