MOSCOW -- The Russian military submersible struck by a deadly fire in the Arctic has a nuclear-powered engine, President Vladimir Putin revealed Thursday, but his defense minister said the power unit was not seriously affected by the accident.
The fire broke out Monday aboard what Russian officials described as a deep-sea research vessel in the Barents Sea, killing 14 Russian navy officers. The vessel was able to return to port.
Speaking before reporters Thursday in the Kremlin, Putin asked Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, "What about the nuclear power unit?" according to a transcript released by the government.
The unit "has been sealed off and all personnel have been removed," Shoigu replied. The crew, he said, took "the necessary measures to save the unit, which is in working order. This means we can repair the submersible quickly."
Russia has not revealed the name of the submersible or the number of people it carried, nor said much about its mission. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told journalists Wednesday that this information was a state secret.
But Russian media outlets reported that it was the country's most secret submersible, a nuclear-powered research submarine called the Losharik.
The Losharik is named after a Soviet-era cartoon horse made up of small spheres -- a reference to the unique design of its interior hull, reportedly made of interconnected titanium spheres capable of withstanding enormous pressure at great depths.
The Defense Ministry did not acknowledge the incident until the day after it occurred, prompting fears that significant details had been withheld.
But the government of Norway, which also borders the sea, has said it has not detected any radiation leak in the region.
Shoigu said that the vessel had been studying the seabed of the Barents Sea. In recent years, Russia has asserted territorial claims in the Arctic Ocean, far beyond its shores.
"We have pinpointed the main reason for the tragedy: A fire in the battery compartment that spread out," he said.
The incident evoked memories of the disaster of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in 2000, killing 118 sailors. In that case, too, the navy was slow in releasing details.
The officers who died in this week's accident had "taken part in many difficult underwater expeditions to study the Arctic, reaching maximum depths," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Hundreds of sailors gathered Thursday at Russia's main naval cathedral in Kronshtadt just off St. Petersburg in the Gulf of Finland to mourn the dead.
The business daily Kommersant reported that most of the seamen were resting and a team of five was on duty when the fire broke out.
Speaking Wednesday in the port city of Severomorsk, where the submersible is based, Shoigu said the 14 officers had fought bravely to contain the fire before succumbing to smoke inhalation. They rescued one civilian from the affected part of the vessel and then sealed it off, protecting the rest of the ship.
"They sacrificed their lives in order to fulfill their task: They destroyed the fire's source, rescued their comrades and the deep-sea vessel," Shoigu said in a statement broadcast by Russian TV.
Putin ordered high military honors for the dead officers.
Information for this article was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko of The New York Times; and by Vladimir Isachenkov, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Irina Titova of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/05/2019
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