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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper: Crew Went Down Trying to Save the Sub

The crew of the K-159 submarine that sank in the Barents Sea while being towed to a scrapyard reported a leak and asked to be rerouted to shallow waters, but their commanders denied the request, Kommersant reported Thursday.

K-159 commander Sergei Lappa radioed the towboat at about 2 a.m. Saturday to report a leak in one of the rear compartments as the submarine was being towed through rough waters near Kildin island, Kommersant said, citing a source close to the Northern Fleet command.

Lappa then asked that the towboat change its route from the Gremikha base to the scrapyard in Polyarny and head toward shallow waters near Kildin in case the leak grew worse, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The towboat captain probably relayed this request to the Northern Fleet command in Severomorsk, Kommersant said.

It remains unclear whether the towboat captain or someone higher up in the chain of command rejected the request and ordered Lappa to have his crew fight to keep the submarine afloat, the newspaper said.

The battle was lost when water in the submarine's ninth compartment rose to 1.5 meters and the extra weight caused steel cables harnessing the vessel to four pontoons to snap, the newspaper said.

The K-159, which had its conning tower open, went down with seven of its 10 crew members, including Lappa, trapped inside struggling to seal the leaks, the paper said.

Anatoly Stavropoltsev, deputy commander of the Gremikha base's submarine unit, confirmed in an interview with NTV television Thursday that the crew "was fighting to stay afloat until the very last moment."

The submarine sank to a depth of some 238 meters at around 3 a.m. Saturday, according to press reports.

The three other crew members were later found in the water near the site of the sinking, but only one of them -- Lieutenant Maxim Tsibulsky -- survived.

Officials at the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the sinking, refused to comment on the Kommersant report Thursday.

Northern Fleet officials also refused to comment. Navy officials earlier maintained that the cables snapped because of a storm.

Agence France Presse, citing a Northern Fleet source, first reported that a leak might have caused the accident Wednesday. Channel One television followed that evening, reporting that military investigators were looking into such a possibility.

The Defense Ministry, however, said a leak could not have been a key factor in the tragedy.

"Even if there had been a leak ... the four pontoons should have kept the K-159 afloat," a Defense Ministry official was quoted by Interfax as saying Wednesday.

Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov announced Wednesday that charges had been brought against Sergei Zhemchuzhnov, who headed the towing operation and was reportedly on board the towboat.

Savenkov said Zhemchuzhnov was charged with "violation of the rules of marine navigation." He did not elaborate.