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uncovering the kursk cover up

Published: February 21, 2003 (Issue # 845)


At 11:28 on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 12, 2000, the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk was just below the surface of the Barents Sea, preparing to fire a practice torpedo in a naval exercise. The submarine, covered in special sound-absorbing rubber tiles, was one of the most modern in Russia's Northern Fleet, and all appeared calm as the crew spotted its two targets on the surface: some fishing boats and the giant warship, Peter the Great. But all was not calm. The sub was loaded with a torpedo that used hydrogen peroxide as fuel. Colorless and odorless, the fuel causes a violent reaction when it comes into contact with such metals as copper, and the reaction gives off intense heat. The 650-millimeter torpedo in tube No. 4 on the Kursk was old, manufactured in 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It had never been launched before.

What happened at 11:28 that morning is not known for certain, but all indications are that the hydrogen peroxide fuel leaked, touched metal and triggered an inferno in the torpedo room. The Kursk was instantly disabled and dove to the sea bottom, and much of the crew perished immediately. Just over two minutes later, the remaining torpedoes exploded, sending out seismic waves that were detected hundreds of kilometers away.

The disaster is a story unto itself - the most dramatic example yet of frightening deterioration in the former Soviet Union's military machine. Worn-out submarines, aging intercontinental ballistic missiles, decrepit early-warning systems and loose nuclear materials are all part of this legacy of decay. In "A Time to Die," journalist Robert Moore does not probe deeply into the reasons for the Kursk disaster; instead, he chronicles the failed effort to rescue the Kursk survivors. This is an emotion-packed and ultimately heartbreaking story that also sheds light on the Soviet military's decay. The book's title is drawn from a poem one sailor wrote to his wife before the voyage.

Twenty-three men in the aft compartments of the submarine survived the explosion and sinking, according to notes they left behind. It is not known how long they were alive, but they huddled in the rear of the vessel, and did not try to escape the doomed sub, suggesting that they were waiting to be rescued. Moore, the chief United States correspondent for Britain's ITN News, shows how the Russians bungled the emergency and how British and Norwegian teams struggled to assist them when the Russians belatedly sought international help.

As the shock waves of the explosion pulsed through the Barents Sea, they were monitored by another Russian submarine, the Karelia. In the first of many astounding miscalculations, its captain decided not to report what he had heard, figuring the explosion was just part of the exercise. The Peter the Great warship, the ostensible target of the Kursk practice torpedo, also detected the shock waves. A report was sent to the Navy brass, but they ignored it. It was only later, when the Kursk failed to send an expected signal, that the Russian Navy launched a hunt. But the search and rescue teams were totally unprepared. The primary rescue ship was 20 years old and originally designed to carry timber. The vessel did not reach the area where the stricken sub went down until 21 hours after the Kursk sank. One Russian rescue submersible reached the Kursk but ran out of power; another submersible began to sink almost immediately on deployment and had to abort its mission. Meanwhile, Russian officials repeatedly lied to the public and the sailors' families about the sinking and the mishandled rescue.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Dec. 19


Test your mastery of parlor games during Game Evening at the British Book Center. Learn how to play a variety of classic, mentally challenging games and use your newly acquired skills to crush weaker opponents. The event beings at 5 p.m.



Saturday, Dec. 20


The city’s Babushkina Park on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony will be invaded by dozens of rocking-and-rolling Santa Clauses during today’s Santa Claus Parade. Not only will they parade through the park but there will also be competitions amongst the festively-clad participants and a musical master class. There will also be a prize for the best-dressed Santa Claus.


Stock up your record collection during the Vinyl Christmas Sale at the KL10TCH bar on Konyushennaya ploschad today. Spend the afternoon perusing the records for sale while listening the classic, clean sound of records spinning out hits from a variety of musical genres and time periods.



Sunday, Dec. 21


The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the club’s website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts made from a plethora of sweet treats. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBA’s and Capital Legal Service’s event “Arctic Expedition” this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers’ ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



Wednesday, Dec. 24


The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.



To have your event included in All About Town, email tot@sptimes.ru



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