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Weather Delays <i>Kursk</i> Salvage - 2001-10-03

Bad weather is again hampering efforts to recover the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk and salvage crews now say they do not expect to raise the vessel before next week.

The Dutch company in charge of the operation said bad weather in the Barents Sea meant the Kursk cannot be brought to the surface by Thursday as previously planned. Frans van Seumeren, president of Mammoet, the company hired by Russia to raise the submarine, told reporters severe Arctic storms had created conditions which would not permit the work to continue as scheduled.

On Monday, divers had begun attaching lifting cables to the hull of the Kursk. But heavy seas and high winds made the job so difficult that only six of the 26 cables that are to be used have been attached. Once the cables have been plugged into holes drilled into the hull of the Kursk, they will then be run to hydraulic lifts fixed on a huge barge anchored above the wreck.

Despite the slow pace of the work, Mr. van Seumeren said the workers remain optimistic that the submarine will be raised. The original target date for lifting the Kursk was September 15, but it has been repeatedly delayed because of the weather and technical problems associated with raising the 18,000 ton vessel. The salvers say they will need a 12-hour period of calm sea conditions to lift the sub once all the cables have been attached.

Once lifted from its resting-place 108 meters below the surface, the Kursk will be fixed in place under the giant barge and towed to a facility near the port of Murmansk. Once in the dry dock there, the remains of the crew are to be removed as well as the 22 cruise missiles the Kursk carried. Then the rest of the vessel is to be dismantled.

After these goals are met there still remains the problem of retrieving the severely damaged forward sections of the submarine, which were cut off to make the salvage operation easier. It is this part of the submarine, Russian officials say, that is likely to hold the clues as to what happened in August of 2000 when two explosions tore open the Kursk's bow and sent all 118 crewmembers to their deaths.