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China says sub disaster killed 70

The sub -- pictured in this file photo -- was in service with China's East Sea Fleet.
The sub -- pictured in this file photo -- was in service with China's East Sea Fleet.

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- A Chinese conventional submarine on a military training exercise was involved in an accident in which all 70 people aboard were killed, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported Friday.

The news agency blamed the accident -- said to have happened in recent days -- on mechanical problems. It is not known when the accident took place.

The vessel -- identified as submarine 361 -- has been recovered from eastern Chinese territorial waters east of Neichangshan and towed to an unidentified port, the agency said.

The area is in the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea.

In a telegram of condolences to the families of the victims, Chinese Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin expressed sorrow over the "big loss" and described the crew as "the good children of the people and loyal defenders of the motherland and that their heroism and contributions will not be forgotten by the people of the country."

The submarine -- one of about 90 in the 2.5 million-strong People's Liberation Army fleet -- is non-nuclear.

It was one of the worst naval accidents in Communist China's history, a military source told Reuters.

In the mid-1980s, a destroyer exploded near the southern island province of Hainan killing nearly 100 people.

It is exceedingly unusual for the Chinese government to report publicly on such accidents.

CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz said the fact that the announcement came when the Chinese would normally be celebrating the May Day week holiday was even more remarkable.

Pentagon officials Friday said the United States did not know about the submarine accident until the Chinese announced it. Officials said they do not have any details on the accident beyond what the official Chinese news agency is reporting.

The Type 035 (Ming class) is a remodeled Romeo-class submarine -- built with Russian Korean War era technology -- which itself is based on the German Type-21 U-boat of 1944, according to China Defence Today, an unofficial Web site of Chinese defense affairs.

The boats are considered obsolete by modern standards, the Web site says, but the Chinese have found them useful for patrol and coastal defense duties, and construction of them continues providing a relatively inexpensive replacement for aging Romeo-class boats.

Boat 361 was one of six in service with China's East Sea Fleet.

"The development of the Type 035 diesel electric submarine began in 1967. The first two boats were completed between 1971 and 1972 and entered service in 1974," China Defence Today says.

"One of the first three boats was later scrapped after a fire accident. The earlier models showed faults which delayed the series production of the class, and they have since been retired."

Ex-US Navy submarine captain Ed Brownlee told CNN that China has been increasing training and exercises of its submarines in the east to carry out a policy of "sea denial" to try counter the powerful U.S. Pacific fleet.

-- CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report

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