14 crew killed in Russian submarine fire in latest disaster for country’s navy

Fourteen seamen have died in a fire on a deep submersible, Russia's defense ministry said Tuesday, the latest in a string of disasters and accidents to hit the country's navy. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 July 2019
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14 crew killed in Russian submarine fire in latest disaster for country’s navy

  • Fourteen crew died as a result of poisoning from the fumes of the fire
  • Russia has seen a number of such accidents in the post-Soviet period

MOSCOW: Fourteen seamen have died in a fire on a deep submersible, Russia's defense ministry said Tuesday, the latest in a string of disasters and accidents to hit the country's navy.
The tragedy in the far north has echoes of the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 that claimed the lives of 118 personnel and shook the first year of Vladimir Putin's presidency.
"On July 1, a fire broke out during biometric measurements on a scientific research deep-sea submersible," the defense ministry said.
Fourteen crew died as a result of poisoning from the fumes of the fire in Russia's territorial waters, a ministry spokeswoman confirmed to AFP.
The fire has been put out, the ministry said, adding an investigation was under way.
"The investigation is being conducted by the commander-in-chief of the navy."
The research was conducted to study areas near the seabed and the seabed itself of the ocean in the interests of the Russian naval fleet, according to the ministry.
The vessel is now situated at a military base in the closed northern city of Severomorsk which is located on the Kola Peninsula above the Arctic Circle.
The defense ministry provided no other details.
Putin has yet to respond publicly to the disaster.
A military expert, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, rubbished claims that the fire happened during scientific research.
"Usually it's a cover for different type of work conducted on the seabed" like laying cables, the expert said.
The RBC newspaper, citing a source in law enforcement agencies, said the accident took place in the submersible deployed from the AC-12 nuclear submarine known as Losharik.
Novaya Gazeta independent newspaper said, citing sources, that the fire took place aboard the AC-12 submarine, killing the entire crew of 25 officers
Russia has seen a number of such accidents in the post-Soviet period.
In August 2000, the Kursk submarine sunk in the Barents Sea with the loss of all 118 aboard.
An inquiry found that a torpedo had exploded, detonating all the others.
Putin, who stayed on holiday for several days after the disaster, was severely criticised for his response.
Moscow also controversially turned down foreign offers of assistance for the rescue effort.
In another accident in 2008, twenty people -- three naval officers and 17 civilians -- were killed by poison gas after a vessel's fire-extinguishing system was accidentally activated during trials in the Sea of Japan.
In 2011, one of Russia's biggest nuclear submarines caught fire while undergoing repairs in dock in the northern Murmansk region.
Later it was reported the sub was armed with long-range nuclear missiles when it caught fire.


Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

A villager tries to extinguish a wildfire at the village of Chaveira, near Macao, in central Portugal on Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 9 min 49 sec ago
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Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

  • By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk

VILA DE REI/MACAO, Portugal: After more than 50 hours, firefighters were still battling a wildfire in central Portugal late on Monday, as villagers and local authorities blamed a lack of resources and government inaction for the damage caused by the flames.
So far, 39 people had been injured, including one who was in serious condition. Portugal’s Civil Protection department said some villagers had been evacuated as a precaution and houses had been destroyed.
The fire was small in comparison with a massive blaze that hit the same region in June 2017, killing 64 people and burning about 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) in a few days. That was the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history.
Data from the European Union fire-mapping service showed about 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) burned over the weekend.
Civil Protection said earlier on Monday that the fire, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, was 90% under control, but warned that the remaining blazes required “a lot of attention” as the winds whipped up later in the day, fanning the flames in tinder-dry conditions.
By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk.
“The worst-case scenario happened,” said Nunes. He said firefighters would adopt techniques overnight to put out the flames, including using four bulldozers provided by the armed forces.
Even though humidity is expected to remain low, the wind is set to lose strength in the early hours of Tuesday, which could help firefighters end the wildfire, Nunes added.
Covered in eucalyptus and pine trees, central Portugal is frequently hit by summer blazes, with hilly terrain making it especially difficult for firefighters to reach.

’THERE WAS NO ONE’
Villagers, as well as authorities in Macao and Vila de Rei, areas in the heart of the fire zone, said there were not enough firefighters and resources to combat the flames.
Sheep farmer Joaquim Ribeiro told Reuters there were no firefighters when the blaze arrived at his village in Macao, forcing him to transfer his animals elsewhere. “It was pandemonium.”
Another sheep farmer, Fernando Cardoso, said he rushed to a nearby fire station as the flames approached his village but the firefighters told him they could not help until given the green light.
“The fire appeared out of nowhere,” he said. “When we got here, there were flames everywhere, no place to turn, no firefighters, there was no one.”
Local authorities have also pointed the finger at Portugal’s Socialist government, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Speaking to Lusa news agency, the deputy mayor of Vila de Rei, Paulo Cesar, accused the government of not being able to prevent wildfires.
“The municipality is fed up with these successive fires linked to criminal activity and is fed up of seeing the state fail again,” he said.
Asked by reporters about the complaints, Costa said the mayors were “primarily responsible” for protecting their own municipalities from wildfires through “proper management of their territory.”
Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation into the fires. Portugal’s judiciary police have collected evidence and artifacts that could be related to the fires’ origin, an official told Lusa news agency.
In a statement, police said a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. But a police source, quoted by Portuguese newspaper Observador, said the detention was not related to the fires in question.
The police did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Civil Protection said 1,079 firefighters were on the ground, backed up by 347 firefighting vehicles.
Spain said late on Monday that it was sending two aircraft to help tackle the fires in Portugal.