The Kremlin has brushed aside questions about a fire on a deepwater submersible that left 14 Russian sailors dead, telling reporters Wednesday that key information about the incident was a “state secret.”
State news agencies reported Tuesday that submariners died from smoke inhalation after a blaze broke out on the craft, which was carrying out research in Russian territorial waters.
The fire was later extinguished and the submersible, which is smaller than a submarine and has limited power reserves, is now at the naval base in Severomorsk on the Barents Sea.
In response to a question on which vessel or station was involved, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin knew the details but that they would not be released.
“The Commander in Chief has all the information but this information cannot just be circulating publicly. This is classified as top secret information,” Peskov said on his regular conference call with journalists.
He gave a one-word answer when asked if he had any plans to disclose details: “No.”
“Listen, there is information that is classified as a state secret. It’s a state secret in the interests of the state, the interests of the state security. This is normal practice, when such information is not disclosed,” he said.
“There is nothing illegal about it, this is all done in full compliance with the law on state secrets. So there is no reason for these questions. But have no doubt that the Commander in Chief has all the information,” Peskov added.
10 captains killed
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is overseeing probe into the incident, was more forthcoming in a visit to Severomorsk, according to RIA-Novosti.
He indicated that there were some survivors, and that 10 of the dead were captains. “Fourteen crew members were killed, the rest were saved,” he said.
“Seven of the dead were captains of the first rank, and three were captains of the second rank. Two were Heroes of Russia. All deceased officers will be presented with state awards posthumously,” he added.
Shoigu said the submariners “acted heroically” during the incident, evacuating a “civilian representative of the industry” from “the compartment engulfed in fire, then they locked the hatchway to stop the fire from spreading all over the apparatus and were fighting till the end so the vessel survived.”
The incident took place on July 1 and was announced on July 2, Peskov confirmed.
Asked why it took 24 hours for the Kremlin to release the news, Peskov said: “The information was provided in a timely manner.”
The blaze is one of the deadliest incidents the Russian navy has experienced in years.
Twenty people were killed on board a Russian nuclear submarine in 2008, when a fire extinguishing system was triggered accidentally. In 2000, more than 100 men died on the Kursk nuclear-powered submarine when two explosions in its bow caused it to sink to the floor of the Barents Sea.
CNN’s Darya Tarasova and Tara John contributed to this report.