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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kursk Lifters to Get $16M Advance

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — A Dutch consortium hopes to raise the Kursk nuclear submarine and the remaining bodies of its 118-man crew from the seabed next September, 13 months after it exploded and sank in the frigid waters of the Barents Sea, a company manager said Monday.

Russia will pay a $16 million advance to the Mammoet Transport BV to lift the 18,300-ton Kursk from a depth of 108 meters, about 300 kilometers north of the Norwegian coast, said Frans van Seumeren.

The full cost of the task was not disclosed, but van Seumeren said Russia will make more payments at the completion of various stages of work. The advance is to be paid this week.

The work will be done in a joint venture of Mammoet and Smit International, a Rotterdam-based maritime company that specializes in salvage operations.

Russia had negotiated for months with a consortium of Smit International, the Norwegian branch of the U.S. company Halliburton and the Netherlands' Heerema Marine Contractors, until Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov abruptly announced last week that the contract would go to another company. It was signed in Moscow on Friday.

Klebanov said the earlier negotiations failed in part because the consortium was ready to carry out the contract only next year.

Russian and Norwegian divers retrieved 12 bodies from the Kursk last November, but their salvage mission was called off because of rough weather and danger from broken equipment inside the submarine.

There are two nuclear reactors and two dozen torpedoes on the vessel, which exploded in a still unexplained accident during a training exercise last August. Environmentalists have voiced concern over the danger of radiation leaks during a salvage operation, but the Russians have said the reactors automatically shut down before the sub sank.

Mammoet declined to address questions about the nuclear equipment on board, but said it would take special precautions.

"Safety measures will make it a little more difficult, but safety is very important," Seumeren told a news conference.

Mammoet, a major operator of heavy-lift equipment, proposed raising the Kursk using a huge barge equipped with 20 anchored hydraulic lifting devices.

It will then be hauled to the Russian port of Murmansk suspended from a pontoon.

It will only be after the ship is lifted onto a dry dock in Murmansk that the bodies of the 106 crewmen would be sought and retrieved, van Seumeren said. That would be the responsibility of the Russian government.

Divers will begin in June to sever the damaged front part of the submarine and attach cables to the hull. The actual lifting will take 12 to 15 hours, and towing it to Murmansk will require up to a week, said van Seumeren.