Investigators Give Up Search in Kursk

Investigators have given up hope of finding any more bodies inside the wreck of the Kursk nuclear submarine after retrieving bodies of 94 of the 118 men aboard, a top military prosecutor said Thursday.

The efforts to find more bodies have been exhausted, but work is continuing on cleaning up the third compartment of the submarine, Colonel Vladimir Mulov, military prosecutor for the Northern Fleet, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying. Ninety of the sailors have been identified and delivered to their relatives for burial.

Most of the bodies have been recovered since the Kursk was raised from the Barents Sea floor to dry dock last October. Twelve were retrieved during an underwater operation shortly after the August 2000 explosions that destroyed the Kursk.

Investigators have also found 200 fragments of bodies, but are unlikely to be able to identify them, the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Thursday.

Viktor Shein, head of the investigations department of the main military prosecutor's office, told the newspaper that investigators believe some men aboard the Kursk "remained alive no less than eight hours after the explosion." Previously, officials had said no one was alive for more than a few hours after the blasts.

Investigators said seven out of the Kursk's 22 Granit cruise missiles are still inside the submarine along with fragments of unexploded torpedoes, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.

Investigators have been looking for clues to the disaster's cause. Officials have said that an explosion of a practice torpedo, which set off combat weapons in the bow, caused the sinking. However, they have not yet determined whether the initial blast was caused by a flaw in the torpedo or a collision with another vessel, possibly a Western submarine.

Shein said investigators had not found signs of an outside impact on the submarine, but said "there are nonetheless people who point to indirect circumstances" that suggest a collision is still being considered as a possible cause of the accident."