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Kursk Probe Ending as 7 More Sailors Laid to Rest - 2002-03-24

The remains of seven more Russian sailors from the doomed nuclear submarine Kursk were laid to rest Saturday in St. Petersburg. Officials say these may be the last burials, amid indications that investigators are getting close to a final determination of just what caused the sub to sink almost two years ago.

Coffins containing the remains of the seven crewmembers were buried in a cemetery in St. Petersburg after an emotional service attended by relatives and naval officers.

Among those buried was the captain of the Kursk, Commander Gennady Lyachin. His remains were identified just a few days ago by forensic experts, the last of 115 identified of the 118 men who died in the disaster.

Officials say the remains of the other three men will probably never be found, since a thorough search of the wreckage has been completed.

Most of the Kursk was raised last October in a difficult and costly salvage operation. Some fragments from the bow section are to be brought up this summer.

Once the pride of Russia's submarine fleet, the Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 after a pair of onboard explosions.

Most crewmembers were killed instantly, although at least 23 survived for several hours in a rear compartment, according to two notes, which were found afterward.

Officials have not made a final determination of what caused the explosions, although most independent experts believe a faulty torpedo was to blame. Before the Kursk sinking, Russian torpedoes used a highly flammable gas which had been discontinued decades ago in Western navies because it was considered too dangerous.

Nonetheless, some senior Russian naval officers long denied this could have been the cause, insisting the giant sub must have collided with some other object, perhaps a foreign submarine.

Russian news agencies report investigators have concluded the torpedo explosion was the cause, although the official investigation is still under way. A final report is due out later this year.

Last year President Vladimir Putin demoted several naval officers of the Northern Fleet, without linking the move directly to the Kursk disaster.