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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nation Remembers Kursk Sailors

ReutersRelatives of the sailors grieving at the Kursk monument in Moscow on Friday.
Sailors in dress uniforms stood rigid on a ship deck Friday as wreaths were tossed into the gray sea to honor 118 of their comrades who perished five years ago when the Kursk sank.

Ceremonies for the tragedy's fifth anniversary were held around the country, which just a week earlier was riveted by another submarine accident that demonstrated the Navy's insufficient rescue capacities.

"Where is the underwater technology that the navy authorities solemnly promised to get into shape after the Kursk?" Rossiiskaya Gazeta asked in its Friday issue.

Flags were flown at half-mast on ships as the dead sailors' relatives and ordinary people went to various Kursk memorials to commemorate the victims of the disaster. The wreaths were thrown carefully into the water in Vidyayevo, the Kursk's home port.

In the city of Kursk, home to 16 of the sailors who died on the submarine named after their hometown, a monument made of the vessel's scrap was unveiled and blessed by an Orthodox priest in an elaborate church ceremony. Crowds of people, some of them weeping, laid flowers in front of the monument.

The Kursk nuclear submarine was shaken by explosions and sank during naval exercises in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000. All of the 118 men on board died.

The incident shocked Russians not only because the Kursk was one of the navy's most sophisticated vessels, but also because Russian equipment was unable to reach the sub and rescue anyone and because officials balked for days at foreign offers of help.

Almost exactly five years later, Russian officials were tested by yet another submarine's sinking, prompting questions about whether any lessons had been learned from the Kursk.

On Aug. 5, a mini-sub with seven people on board became trapped deep under the Pacific Ocean off the Kamchatka Peninsula, and again the Navy was unable to reach it or rescue its crew.

This time, however, Russian officials asked for foreign help, and nearly three days later a British remote-controlled vehicle cut the cables blocking the mini-sub from surfacing. All seven men on board were saved.

The rescued crew on Friday briefly left a military hospital where they have been recovering from their ordeal to attend a service at the SS. Peter and Paul Church in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

"We decided to visit a church to give thanks for our survival," Vyacheslav Milashevsky, the mini-sub's captain, said on NTV television.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Friday published an interview with his wife, who said she was so short of money when the accident happened that she could not feed her children and that journalists loaned her some cash.

"Our husbands were saved by us, the wives, and by you, the press, including the foreign press," she said. "The uproar frightened [officials]."

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

Kristina, 7, touching the tombstone of her father, Sergei Yerakhtin, at St. Petersburg's Serafimovskoye Cemetery.

Speaking to reporters at a Kursk memorial ceremony in Moscow, the Navy's chief of staff, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, said that while the Navy had bought foreign rescue gear after the Kursk catastrophe, Russian Navy personnel were not yet able to operate it.

"No matter how many vehicles we have, there never will be enough if we can't use them correctly," Masorin said.

He said that an underwater rescue craft similar to the Scorpio that Russia previously had bought from Britain was broken due to a human error and could not be used in the salvage effort.

"Our people broke it when they started to use it," Masorin said.

While the Kursk sailors' families received financial compensation from the state, many complained that authorities failed to investigate the disaster properly and draw the necessary conclusions.

The probe concluded that most sailors had died immediately, and that the 23 crew members who survived the explosions remained alive for no more than eight hours. But many relatives believe the sailors were alive and sending rescue signals well beyond that.

"That was an incompetent rescue operation," Nadezhda Nekrasova, the mother of Kursk sailor Aleksei Nekrasov, said in remarks broadcast on NTV television.

Nekrasova lamented that "all opportunities to find the truth and those guilty have been exhausted in our native land," and said the relatives have lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. The Kursk Tragedy