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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Relatives Place Flowers on Watery Grave

Reeling from shock and heartbreak, relatives tossed flowers Thursday into the waves of the frigid, gray Barents Sea in tribute to 118 men killed when their nuclear submarine crumpled in an explosion and sank to the silt below.

While some family members still insisted they want the bodies retrieved before they will mourn, most boarded a ship for the area near where the Kursk went down Aug. 12.

Wives, mothers and fathers with ashen faces huddled together and looked over the deck railings. An Orthodox priest and Moslem cleric led prayers for the dead, then the relatives threw fresh flowers and wreaths, including one from President Vladimir Putin, into the sea. The boat circled the floating flowers before returning to shore.

Click here to read our Special Report on the Kursk Tragedy.

The disaster has been a terrible ordeal for the families, many of whom found out about the sinking only from television reports, then endured days of a confused rescue operation, then only heard from Norwegian divers that their sons and husbands were dead.

Earlier Thursday, many relatives of the crew clustered to watch the laying of a foundation stone for a memorial to the Kursk in the town of Vidyayevo, where the ship had been based. Two women fainted, and several people fell onto the grassy slope sobbing and kissing the earth.

"Farewell, my son!" one woman wailed.

Boris Vlasov, a former submarine officer who was on the relatives’ boat Thursday, recalled how he accompanied his son Sergei to the Kursk when it left for the military exercises that would take his life.

"He said, Dad, it’s three days," Vlasov said on ORT television.

Vlasov said he was reluctant to throw flowers into the sea. "I don’t want to throw a wreath. I am waiting" to see Sergei’s body, he said.

The navy is negotiating with Norwegian and Dutch companies for help lifting the submarine and recovering the bodies. But such a project was not likely to begin at the site above the Arctic Circle until next spring, officials say.

Norway’s military said Thursday that early information from the navy was so bad that the Norwegians were not sure conditions were safe enough for the diving team to continue.

"It would have been very difficult for us to continue if the information had not improved," said Colonel John Espen Lien, spokesman for the Norwegian Supreme Defense Command. "It took unnecessary time, to the point that we had to take it up at top levels."

Lien said the problems were with lower ranking navy officers who were unsure of how much information they could give Britain and Norway, both members of NATO.

A frustrated Vice Admiral Einar Skorgen, leader of the Norwegian rescue effort, turned to Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, commander of the Northern Fleet.

"When it was taken up with Popov, it was taken care of immediately," Lien said, without specifying how much time was lost. Among other things, the Western experts were granted access to the Kursk’s sister ship so they could study its systems.