Vladivostok Russia: Twenty people were killed on board a Russian nuclear submarine, the navy said on Sunday, in an accident that exposed the gap between the Kremlin’s ambitions and its military capability.
The accident, which happened while the submarine was on sea trials in the Pacific Ocean, was the deadliest to hit Russia’s navy since the Kursk nuclear submarine exploded beneath the Barents Sea in 2000, killing all 118 sailors on board.
Media reports said Russia had planned to lease the submarine to the Indian navy, but there was no confirmation of this.
Prosecutors investigating the latest incident said they suspected the victims died after inhaling a toxic gas used as a fire suppressant when the vessel’s fire extinguishing systems went off unexpectedly. It was not clear why the portable breathing gear usually issued to Russian submarine crews did not save them.
“Twenty people died,” the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement. “Results of a preliminary investigation show that death occurred as a result of freon gas entering the lungs.”
A navy spokesman said the submarine’s reactor was not damaged and that the vessel was now moored at the Bolshoi Kamen naval base on the Pacific. “The radiation levels on the ship are normal,” spokesman Igor Dygalo said.
Another 20 people were injured and transferred to a military hospital in Vladivostok.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the defence ministry to carry out an inquiry, the Kremlin press service said.