Kremlin says details of sub fire that killed 14 ‘cannot be made public’

Local newspaper Novaya Gazeta says the machine is a nuclear mini-submarine AS-12. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 July 2019
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Kremlin says details of sub fire that killed 14 ‘cannot be made public’

  • Some local media reported that the submarine is nuclear-powered
  • Russian defense ministry said the machine was on a scientific research mission

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Wednesday said details of a fire that killed 14 crew on a deep-water submersible will not be made public because they include classified information.

The seamen died on Monday in Russia’s territorial waters in the country’s far-north, but the disaster was only made public Tuesday.

Officials have given little information about the vessel or the circumstances of the accident, with local media reporting the ship was a secretive nuclear-powered mini-submarine.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday there were survivors of the accident, without clarifying how many.

“This information cannot be made public completely,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the disaster. “It belongs to the category of state secrets.”

Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin was informed immediately after the fire.

“It is completely normal when this kind of information is not made public,” Peskov said, adding that this was “within the law of the Russian Federation.”

Peskov said that “no decision has been made” about a period of mourning in the northern Russian region.

The defense ministry said the 14 crew were killed by inhaling poisonous fumes after a fire broke out on a “scientific research deep-sea submersible” studying the sea floor.

However the Novaya Gazeta newspaper cited sources as saying that the accident took place on an AS-12 nuclear mini-submarine, which is capable of going to extreme depths.

The presence of many senior ranking officers on board could suggest the submarine was not on an ordinary assignment.

Minister Shoigu was in Severomorsk, the restricted-access military port in the Russian Arctic, on Wednesday to direct a probe into the accident.

“Fourteen crew members died, the rest were saved,” he said, quoted by Russian news agencies, without disclosing the total number of seamen who were onboard.

He said the vessel was conducting “important research on the hydrosphere of the earth” in the Barents Sea and that those on board were “unique military specialists.”

According to Shoigu, a civilian “representative of industry” was successfully evacuated by the crew that acted “heroically.”

The crew managed to evacuate the civilian after which they closed the hatch to halt the spreading of flames, he said.

“They fought for the ship to survive until the end,” Shoigu said, adding that all the seamen will be posthumously given state awards.

The governor of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Beglov said Wednesday that the crew was based in the city.

Names of members crew have not been officially released. By Russian law, publishing names of servicemen engaged in conflict or special operations is illegal.

Putin has ordered a full investigation into what he called a “tragedy.”

The incident is the latest in a string of disasters and accidents to hit Russia’s navy, with echoes of the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 that claimed the lives of 118 personnel and shook the first years of Putin’s presidency.

During a meeting with Shoigu Tuesday, Putin said the submarine in question was “not an ordinary vessel.”

“As we know, it’s a scientific-research vessel, its crew is highly professional,” the Russian leader said.

He said the victims included seven Captain First Rank officers — the most senior staff officers in the Russian navy — and two have been awarded Hero of Russia, a top title given out by the president.

A military expert who spoke 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 fire was put out and the vessel returned to a military base in Severomorsk. It is unknown how many were on board the sub.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.