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Russia opens criminal inquiry of sub mission

By Associated Press
Published August 10, 2005

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia - Russian prosecutors said Tuesday that they have opened a criminal investigation into how seven men were trapped in a minisubmarine in the Pacific last week after initial findings pointed to negligence on the part of officials overseeing the mission.

Amid a flurry of questions about the preparedness of the navy to handle such crises, the Pacific Fleet commander said millions will be spent to buy two rescue vehicles similar to the British vessel that cut the 44-foot sub free.

New details also emerged about the mission the AS-28 submarine was on when it became stuck some 620 feet underwater.

Capt. Valery Lepetyukha, one of the six navy sailors on board, said the vessel had been sent to investigate an underwater surveillance antenna that had been entangled in fishing nets. The seventh man was an employee with the company that made the AS-28.

"We inspected one side, then the other side of the device, that is to say, we were not immediately tangled," Lepetyukha said. "Then we found a hanging rope and went around it. While going around it, we apparently were caught by the net. We had no light in the back."

Roman Kolbanov, deputy military prosecutor for the Pacific Fleet, said investigators already have determined that officials responsible for preparing and overseeing the sub's mission committed unspecified violations.

Russian ships initially were able to latch onto the sub and the cables snagging it with a trawling apparatus, but moved it less than 330 feet. The remote-controlled rescue vehicle sent by the British, known as the Scorpio, then spent six hours Sunday cutting away the cables that had snarled the sub.

After breaking free, the AS-28 floated to the surface, ending a more than three-day ordeal in frigid temperatures during which supplies of oxygen and water were dwindling.

[Last modified August 10, 2005, 00:38:10]

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