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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Navy Chief Outlines Kursk Theory

APA boy standing beside portraits of the 118 Kursk seamen in the closed naval town of Vidyayevo, where the crew was based.
The navy chief said Monday that the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine might have been caused by a practice torpedo with unstable fuel, and added that he had ordered the weapon taken off duty.

Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov stopped short of saying the Kursk's sinking during naval maneuvers in August 2000 was caused by a flaw in the torpedo. Kuroyedov said investigators were still considering a collision with another vessel or a World War II mine as possible reasons for the disaster, which killed all 118 men aboard and stunned the country.

Yet Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who flanked Kuroyedov at a news conference in the northern port of Murmansk to announce results of months of examination of the wrecked Kursk, said investigators had found no evidence of another vessel's presence near the Kursk in the Barents Sea at the time, Interfax and Itar-Tass reported.

Russian officials have long said the explosion of a practice torpedo triggered the larger blast that roared through the massive vessel and destroyed it. But they have yet to determine what prompted the initial explosion, despite extensive investigation since the Kursk was raised to the surface last fall.

Immediately after the disaster, Russian admirals claimed the explosions could have been triggered by a collision with a Western submarine shadowing the Kursk.

Both the United States and Britain, which had submarines in the Barents Sea, have denied involvement, and most independent specialists dismissed the collision theory and pointed at a torpedo malfunction as the most plausible cause.

While stopping short of blaming the torpedo for the disaster, Kuroyedov admitted the navy had "placed unfounded trust" in the weapon propelled by highly volatile hydrogen peroxide, which in case of a leak could have caused a powerful explosion of the kind the Kursk suffered.

"It's highly unstable and its contact with certain metals may cause unpredictable consequences," he said.

Kuroyedov mentioned a leak of hydrogen peroxide that caused the 1955 sinking of the British submarine HMS Sidon, in which 13 men died. The accident prompted Britain and other nations to stop using the chemical, but the Soviet and later Russian navy have used such torpedoes since 1957.

Russian officials said the Kursk's practice torpedo had an experimental battery, but was otherwise standard. They denied the claim by some Kursk sailors' relatives and Russian media that the submarine crew had previously reported trouble with the torpedo to their superiors.

Ustinov told President Vladimir Putin last fall that the investigation had revealed that the naval maneuvers during which the Kursk sank were poorly organized. Last December, Putin fired Northern Fleet chief Admiral Vyacheslav Popov and demoted other admirals, though naval officials insisted then that the changes were not linked to the Kursk.

Ustinov said Monday that the probe had revealed "serious violations by both Northern Fleet chiefs and the Kursk crew." The Kursk had gone to sea with both its emergency antenna and buoy incapacitated.

Investigators have retrieved remains of 94 of the Kursk's 118 crewmen, 91 of which have been identified. Ustinov said remains of Kursk's captain, Gennady Lyachin, could be among fragments to be identified.