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Breaking News

Russian Submarine Accident: Russia Asks Britain for Help

Aired August 16, 2000 - 8:00 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We've gotten some late word now on the fate of that Russian submarine, the Kursk, which is now lying on the bottom of the Barents Sea. We have just learned and just confirmed that Russia has requested some help in trying to rescue the men aboard that ship.

We understand the British have been contacted and are sending some sort of help. What it is that is being sent, we don't know at this particular point.

We've also heard this morning that Russian officials are saying that there has been no sign of life aboard that ship this morning.

Let's go now to Moscow and get the very latest. Our Mike Hanna is standing by -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, CNN has learned from the British Ministry of Defense that a request for assistance had been made by the Russians, and that assistance is on its way, or could even have arrived in the rescue area.

This assistance takes the form of a British rescue team of some 20 personnel, who have been on standby, together with that British rescue vessel, an LR5 submersible. This will be deployed as soon as preparations have been made in the search area.

Earlier, a few hours ago, the deputy prime minister -- Russian deputy prime minister, that is, Ilya Klebanov, was quoted by the Interfax News Agency and by Russian television as saying that there had been no signs of life in the submarine in recent hours. He stressed, however, though, that it is too early to draw any conclusions from this.

Subsequent to this, a military spokesman told CNN that contact had been made earlier with the submarine when the submersible capsule, which was attempting to rescue the sailors aboard, had actually come into physical contact with the hull of the submarine.

So it's not clear whether the signs of life that the deputy prime minister says are not being heard is whether there is no physical contact being made with the submarine hull, given what we are told are worsening weather conditions in the region. A Navy spokesman says that the winds are increasing, the swell is mounting, and down below, over 300 feet below on the bottom of the ocean, the currents are getting stronger and stronger. Visibility is reported to be zero.

But another report we've just received, the Interfax News Agency quotes the chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, as saying that there is now sufficient oxygen in the submarine to last the crew until August the 25th; this is another week.

Earlier, yesterday in fact the admiral had said that the oxygen was expected to run out this Friday. So a deal of confusion and conflicting reports emerging from the situation, rooted perhaps in the fact that communication with the submarine crew has been minimal since the accident occurred -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Mike, if you can standby for just a second, I'd like to read you something that may be very interesting considering the fact that the Russians have now accepted some help from Great Britain.

I have here an excerpt from a letter from U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that was sent to Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, and it reads here: "I must extend my deepest thoughts of concern to you and your valued crew members aboard the Kursk. My department stands ready to provide any assistance you need; please do not hesitate to ask."

Any sign there that that request or that offer would be accepted by the Russians at this point?

HANNA: Well, Leon, I think it has to do with the equipment available. Now, what the U.S. did have available and had made available from the very beginning of this disaster were the deep submergence rescue vessels, the DSRVs.

Now, a senior U.S. admiral has said that the DSRV cannot operate on a submarine that is listing beyond 60 degrees, that is beyond the design parameters of that particular U.S. rescue vessel.

Now we are told by some experts that the British rescue vessel, which is the LR5, can operate on a submarine that is beyond that 60 degree tilt.

Now it has been reported in recent days that the Kursk is at a particular angle. So it would appeared that the British equipment, if this is in fact correct, would be more suitable for the task. Plus, of course the fact of the speed with which the British rescue craft can be deployed. And it does appear we have received reports, unconfirmed as yet, that the British rescue team is already in the vicinity of the rescue -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thank you so much, Mike Hanna for confirming all that news for us this morning as this story continues to develop.

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