Data on submersible fire state secret, says Kremlin

A day after Russia announced the deadly fire aboard its research submersible in the Barents Sea, Kremlin, above, said some details about the incident are classified, TASS reports.

Responding to a question from reporters on the vessel’s type, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that

President Putin has information on the type of submersible and the purpose of the researchers’ mission but the data cannot be made public because it refers to the category of “absolutely classified data.”

This “top secret” is kept in the interests of the state and national security, Peskov said, adding that this is normal practice.

Peskov declined to comment whether the submersible had a nuclear reactor, saying this is a matter of the Russian defence ministry which has launched an investigation into the incident.

Fourteen people died in the fire that broke out aboard the deep-sea underwater vessel in Russia’s territorial waters on Monday evening, the defence ministry said a day later.

The ministry denied a report which said Russia alerted Norwegian authorities about a “gas explosion” aboard the submersible.

It said the fire in the submersible vehicle carrying top researchers was put out by the “self-sacrificing actions” of the crew members and Norway was not informed about the incident.

Reuters cited Per Strand, a director of Norway’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, as saying that his agency responded to a fire alert from Russian officials and found no abnormal levels of radiation in the accident area.

While the ministry did not give details about the fire, type of submersible used or survivors, Russia’s RBC news outlet, citing a military source, said the fire broke out aboard the Losharik AS-12 nuclear-powered submarine launched in the early 2000s and used for special operations.

Two other military sources separately told AFP that such underwater scientific research missions are a cover for other work such as laying cables on the seabed or disrupting communication cables other countries have placed on the seabed.

Russian authorities did not comment on these reports.

The submersible vehicle has been towed to the naval base of the Russian Northern Fleet in the arctic port city of Severomorsk on the Barents Sea coast.

Putin has sent Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Severomorsk to oversee the investigation and prepare a quick report.

The accident in the research vessel was a great loss for Russia and its fleet, Putin said, adding that among the dead were two recipients of the nation’s highest honorary title, the Hero of Russia, and seven high-ranking officers.

Putin called the crew members aboard the vessel highly qualified professionals.

He expressed condolences to the victims’ families.

At least four deadly accidents involving Russian submarines have been reported between 2000 and 2008.

The worst accident happened in August 2000 when 118 Russians died after the Kursk submarine, part of the Northern Fleet, sank in the Barents Sea following two explosions.

In the second worst accident, 20 Russian sailors and shipyard workers died aboard the submarine K-152 Nerpa in​ November 2008 after the fire extinguishing system was accidentally activated, causing suffocation.