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Sailor dies after sub rescue

The HMCS is adrift off the Irish coast.
Great Britain

(CNN) -- One of three sailors injured in a fire that disabled a Canadian submarine off the coast of Ireland has died, Prime Minister Paul Martin said Wednesday.

"He gave his life saving his country, and we pay him our profound respects and his family our deepest condolences," Martin said of Lt. Chris Saunders, during a somber announcement in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

The HMCS Chicoutimi was recently acquired from Britain's Royal Navy. It caught fire on Tuesday morning about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Ireland as it was making its first voyage as a Canadian ship from Scotland to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The British Coast Guard launched a rescue operation to airlift Saunders and two other injured sailors from the sub, which had a crew of 57, according to the Canadian Department of National Defense.

Saunders died while being transferred to a hospital in Ireland, Martin said.

Canadian officials had said earlier that nine crew members who suffered minor smoke inhalation were tended to on board by a British doctor, The Associated Press reported.

"Well, they've got emergency lighting on board. It is probably going to get a little bit cold, but they have sufficient blankets and other means to keep warm on board the submarine," said Commodore Tyrone Pile, commander of the Canadian Atlantic Fleet.

Planning is under way to tow the ship, with its remaining crew on board, back to Scotland but Lieutenant Commander Denise Laviolette of the Canadian navy said the vessel might not be towed to shore before the end of the week.

"Because of the weather conditions out there -- we still have six to eight meter (20 to 26 foot) waves and 35 knot (65 kilometer per hour) winds, so it's still pretty much a gale -- there might not be a window of opportunity until Friday to try to get a tow line to her," he said.

The Chicoutimi was one of four diesel-electric submarines purchased from Britain by the Canadian Navy. It was formally accepted into the Canadian fleet last weekend at a ceremony in Scotland before beginning its ill-fated voyage.

The program to buy the British submarines, announced in 1998, has been controversial in Canada, amid of media reports of cost overruns and technical problems with the aging ships, which were built for the Royal Navy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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