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Breaking News

Russian Navy Mobilizes to Try and Save Crew of Submarine Stranded at Bottom of Barents Sea

Aired August 14, 2000 - 2:36 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story, the Russian navy has mobilized to try to save the crew of the Kursk nuclear-powered submarine stranded at the bottom of the Barents Sea. Today, Moscow revealed the Kursk was involved in a major collision during military exercises yesterday. What collided with it remains unclear. Russia says that both of the sub's reactors have been shut down. It's capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but Moscow says there are none on board. The crew of the Kursk numbers more than 100. Russia's naval commander warns the chance of a successful rescue is -- quote -- "not very high."

This disaster at sea happened during a major Russian naval maneuver, the kind of exercise Washington monitors closely. For more on what the Pentagon knows and what, if anything, the U.S. could do to help in the rescue, we turn to CNN's David Ensor -- David -- he is at the Pentagon.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, two major points from here. First of all, the U.S. says that it is standing by and has told the Russians that it is standing by and ready to help out should they request such help. So far, we haven't heard any confirmation that such help has been requested. And the other important point is that officials here are saying there is no indication at this point that -- if there was a collision, that it involved any U.S. ships.

Now as you mentioned, there is a major Russian air and sea exercise going on in that area right now and, as is traditional, U.S. ships have been monitoring that exercise both from the surface and below the surface. However, again, U.S. officials here at the Pentagon saying no indication so far that any U.S. ship was involved in any sort of collision with the Kursk.

Now, the Kursk is a very large ship indeed. You talked about the size and dimensions of it, there is some hope here that if it hasn't -- if not too much of the air capacity of the submarine has been lost by damage, there may still be a fair amount of air down there and there may still be a chance to save these men in the coming hours and days -- Natalie.

ALLEN: David Ensor from the Pentagon. Thank you, David.

Now we want to turn to our Moscow bureau. CNN's Steve Harrigan covering the story from there. What is the latest you are hearing about the rescue, Steve?

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the very latest we are hearing from the rescue operation comes from Russia's Northern Fleet Press Service. They say that the decision to evacuate the crew members has been made and that that rescue effort is under way right now. The Russians are using a standard piece of rescue equipment. It is called the cula col (ph), or the bell. That bell has been placed over the hatch of the submarine.

Now, there is an estimated anywhere from 107-130 Russian seamen on board this nuclear submarine. There are no nuclear weapons on board, but it is a nuclear-powered submarine. That means it does have a nuclear reactor. So the danger here not only one of a military danger, but also an ecological threat to the region as well -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Is Russia commenting, Steve, on what the situation is as far as the oxygen on board that submarine, or how long they expect this can take before they try and evacuate the men on board?

HARRIGAN: Well, initially, they have said that the rescue operation is prepared to go on all throughout the night if there is good weather for the rescue operation; however, the Barents Sea has very strong currents underneath that icy water, so that would make it tricky. As far as the details of the accident, we've heard really conflicting reports, a lot of questions remain to be answered.

Initial reports from the Russian defense ministry first talked about flooding after the firing of torpedoes, that that's what brought this nuclear-powered submarine to the floor of the Barents Sea. Later, we heard a very different version from the head of the Russian navy. He said there was a serious collision. But still, no answer as to what the submarine collided with.

However, there is evidence of a serious collision and even more damning, the reports by the head of the Russian navy that say that perhaps the outlook for a successful rescue is very dim, this according to the head of the Russian navy himself -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Steve Harrigan with the latest from Moscow, thanks, Steve.

We'll take a break. More news after this.

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