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'Human Error' Blamed for Russian Submarine Accident


Russia's defense minister says human error was to blame for the sinking of one of his nation's nuclear submarines on Saturday. He and other officials say a failure to follow instructions was a large part of what happened.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says that what he describes as thoughtlessness was the main reason for the sinking of the decommissioned submarine K-159, in which nine seamen died.

Without naming names, Mr. Ivanov implied that a failure to follow orders was what led to the decision to tow the aging sub in rough seas.

The submarine broke free early Saturday from giant pontoons that were towing it to shore, where it was to be dismantled. Only one of the 10 crewmembers survived the accident.

Navy officials say the submarine's two nuclear reactors were turned off when the vessel was decommissioned in 1989, and that they pose little danger on the sea bottom.

The radiation level in the area is reported normal, but environmentalists say a radiation leak is possible, depending on how long it takes to bring the submarine to the surface.

The Russian navy has announced that it will raise the K-159, although it will be several months before this can be done.

The K-159 was just one of scores of Soviet-era nuclear submarines that are now awaiting disposal in northwestern Russia, near the border with Norway. Many foreign countries have provided Russia with funding in order to gradually scrap all the submarines, most of which have spent radioactive fuel on board.

The accident has revived bitter memories of the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine three years ago, in the same general area.

Once considered the pride of the Russian navy, the Kursk went down after a faulty torpedo exploded during naval exercises. All 118 crewmembers died in Russia's worst naval disaster.