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Evacuation of Russian n-submarine crew begins

MOSCOW, AUG. 15. Rescue workers began evacuating 116 sailors trapped in a nuclear-powered submarine, Kursk, at the bottom of the Barents Sea after a let-up in Arctic storms this afternoon, the Russian Defence Minister, Mr. Igor Sergeyev, was quoted as saying. But the Navy Commander, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, was quoted as saying the rescue would not be likely to begin full- force before nightfall.

The Russian Government reported that the 155-metre- long Antey class submarine (NATO classification Oscar-II) had gone down on Sunday during the Northern Fleet's military manoeuvres about 180 km northeast of the Russian port of Murmansk in the Arctic circle. It was not carrying nuclear weapons and radiation levels in the area were normal, a navy spokesmen said.

After water poured on board, the Kursk was unable to surface. It came to rest on the seabed after its two nuclear reactors were shut down, cutting off light to the crew and leading to fears it would run out of oxygen.

Interfax news agency quoted Mr. Sergeyev as saying severe storms, which had hampered rescue attempts since Monday, had eased after noon on Tuesday.

It was not clear whether there were casualties among the crew. Mr. Sergeyev did not explain how the evacuation would be carried out. The cause of the disaster was not known, but the two most likely theories were a collision with an unknown object or an explosion on board. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ilya Klebanov, said the submarine may have run into a mine from the World War II. CNN television quoted Pentagon officials in the United States as saying that a U.S. submarine monitoring the exercises reported an explosion in the area on Saturday.

The Russian navy had suggested that the Kursk had crashed into another vessel, perhaps foreign. ``There are signs of a major and serious collision,'' Admiral Kuroyedov told Itar- Tass. The Pentagon quickly dismissed this, stressing there was ``no indication that a U.S. vessel was involved in this mishap.''

Designers of the submarine said there was probably enough oxygen left aboard to last between two to three days. The military has sent all available ships, submarines, submersibles and aircraft to the site, and declined offers of help from abroad saying it has all the facilities for the rescue operation. Britain and the United States have offered to help with the rescue by sending a specially-equipped mini-submarine that could rescue the crew in as few as five or six trips.

- Reuters, DPA, AFP

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