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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mammoet In Talks to Raise Kursk Sub

After unexpectedly ditching an international consortium set to help lift the sunken Kursk submarine, Russian officials have stepped up talks with a Dutch company that has no experience lifting sunken vessels in hopes of clinching a contract Friday.

Frans Seumeren, president of Dutch heavy lifting and transport company Mammoet, arrived in Russia for talks Wednesday, company spokeswoman Larisa Seumeren said in a phone interview from Amsterdam on Thursday.

The spokeswoman confirmed talks between Mammoet and Russia were under way, and said more information would be available only once a contract was signed.

She said the company has no experience lifting sunken vessels, but declined to comment on whether it would hire subcontractors to retrieve the Kursk, which sank with all 118 crewmen aboard in the Barents Sea last August.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said earlier this week that the operation to lift the Kursk would be completed by Sept. 20. On Thursday, an aide to Klebanov — who heads the commissioninvestigating the sinking — told reporters that the contract for lifting the sub and towing it to a shipyard in Murmansk would be signed Friday.

Klebanov created an uproar Wednesday with his announcement that Russia has decided to abandon an international consortium it had been negotiating with, opting for another group of companies, which he declined to name.

Click here to read our special report on the Kursk Tragedy.

Klebanov said Moscow would foot the bill for the entire operation, contrary to an earlier plan under which Moscow and the Kursk Foundation — set up to raise Western donations for the lift — would spilt the $80 million price tag.

Previously, Klebanov and Igor Spassky, head of the St. Petersburg-based Rubin design bureau, which developed the Kursk, had been negotiating with the Netherlands' Smit Internationale and Heerema and the Norwegian arm of the U.S. firm Halliburton.

However, talks stalled because the needed funds had not been raised, Smit Internationale spokesman Lars Wolder said in a phone interview Thursday.

In April, according to Wolder, the consortium suggested the lift should be delayed until 2002, as there was insufficient time to carry it out before storms hit in October.

On Thursday, Rubin's Spassky faxed an official letter to Smit's Rotterdam headquarters, saying Russia refuses to delay the lift and, hence, is terminating talks with the consortium, Wolder said.

He pointed out that only "half a dozen" companies specialize in lifting sunken vessels in the open sea, and Mammoet has no experience in salvage and towage. But he added that, if Mammoet were to come up with a safe plan and contact his company, Smit could theoretically join the operation this year.

Numerous reports have said money has been the sticking point in talks.

The head of the Kursk Foundation, Rio Praaning, said Thursday that his foundation has raised nothing but the $250,000 it received from the Dutch government for a feasibility study and safety assessment report.

He said the report, intended to attract funds from potential donors, would be released as soon as the Russian government allows the foundation to do so — after the Russian side completes a detailed plan for the lift. Then, Praaning predicted, the foundation could raise at least "a couple of million dollars."