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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ustinov Closes Probe of Kursk

APColonel Artur Yegiyev of the military prosecutor's office discussing the results of the Kursk probe at a news conference Friday.
Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov closed a criminal investigation into the Kursk nuclear submarine sinking Friday, saying nobody would be charged because the disaster was caused by a technical malfunction -- leaky torpedo propellant.

Ustinov also defended the Kremlin's handling of the botched rescue efforts, saying that all 118 sailors aboard died within eight hours after the Kursk sank in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000, long before any help could arrive.

"The disaster occurred at 11:28 and 26.5 seconds Moscow time because of the explosion of a practice torpedo inside the fourth torpedo tube," Ustinov said at a news conference. Within two minutes and 18 seconds after the first blast, other combat weapons detonated in powerful explosions that threw the submarine to the seabed and killed most of its crew.

When the navy located the submarine on the seabed some 30 hours after the catastrophe, "there was already no chance to save anyone," he said, speaking after reporting his verdict to President Vladimir Putin.

He insisted that no one was to blame for the torpedo's malfunction. A government commission had previously pointed at a leaky torpedo as the only possible cause.

"The investigators have decided to close the criminal case since no evidence of a crime has been found," Ustinov said. "Those who designed the torpedo couldn't foresee the possibility of its explosion."

He dismissed allegations that the navy could have triggered the disaster by damaging the torpedo while loading it onto the Kursk. "There is no evidence and no testimony that the torpedo was dropped," Ustinov said.

He said the torpedo exploded suddenly as the Kursk was moving under periscope close to the surface, preparing for a practice torpedo attack. He said the ship's log and crew conversation recorders that were recovered contained no sign of anything awry.

Stanislav Proshkin, the head of the Gidropribor research institute that designed the torpedo, challenged the verdict in remarks carried by the Interfax-Military News Agency. He said the weapon could only have exploded after an internal impact, most likely a fire in the bow.

Ustinov said the Northern Fleet chief and several other top naval officials fired last fall were ousted for flaws in organizing the exercise the Kursk had been taking part in that "weren't directly linked" to the disaster.

Ustinov defended the government's failure to save any of the crew. Twenty-three people survived the explosions in the bow and gathered in the less-damaged stern, but Ustinov said they died within eight hours, succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning from fires and the rising pressure caused by icy water flooding the deck.

The government had been criticized for missing a chance to save the Kursk crew because of its slow and botched response to the disaster. Putin came under fire for his failure to quickly end his Black Sea vacation when the Kursk sank.

Putin on Friday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to closely study the prosecutors' findings to prevent similar catastrophes.

The navy has already pulled from service all torpedoes of the type that exploded. The torpedoes had a higher speed and range than conventional torpedoes powered by conventional electric engines, making them highly attractive for the military.