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

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.


Rich in dramatic Catholic history, Nagasaki awaits the pope

Updated 19 November 2019

Rich in dramatic Catholic history, Nagasaki awaits the pope

  • As Francis makes the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years, he will likely look to the past by honoring the doggedness of those so-called Hidden Christians
  • In many ways, Nagasaki is the perfect backdrop for his visit to a nation that was once coveted by the West as a place of Catholic expansion

NAGASAKI, Japan: It’s fitting that Pope Francis will start his first official visit to Japan in Nagasaki, the city where Christianity first took hold in the country and where nearly 500 years later it remains steeped in blood-soaked symbolism, both religious and political.

It was here that a small group of beleaguered Catholic converts went deep underground during centuries of violent persecution. It was here that their descendants dramatically emerged from hiding in the 19th century, their faith unbroken. And it was here that a US atom bomb brought death and destruction to the cathedral that community was finally able to build.

As Francis makes the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years, he will likely look to the past by honoring the doggedness of those so-called Hidden Christians, while also laying out his vision for a future free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

In many ways, Nagasaki is the perfect backdrop for his visit to a nation that was once coveted by the West as a place of Catholic expansion but where only 0.35 percent of the 127 million people are Catholic. One of the highlights of the visit starting Nov. 23 will be his prayer at a memorial to 26 martyrs crucified in 1597 at the start of an anti-Christian persecution that lasted until about 1870.

“Our Christian ancestors were oppressed and monitored, and then suffered from the atomic attack. This all made me think, ‘What is it supposed to mean?’” Japanese Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami said. “Perhaps the followers in Nagasaki have been given a mission to convey peace.”

Takami, who heads Nagasaki’s Catholic community of 60,000, by far the biggest in Japan, is a Hidden Christian descendant who was exposed to radiation in his mother’s womb when the atom bomb fell on Aug. 9, 1945, near Urakami Cathedral. He had several relatives die in the bombing that killed 74,000, a number that includes two priests and 24 followers inside the cathedral.

Takami, who has traveled the world with a statue of the Virgin Mary that was damaged in the blast, and other activists expect the pope will send a powerful anti-nuclear message on behalf of everyone in Nagasaki.

Many bomb survivors and supporters hope it will push Japan’s government, which is protected by the US nuclear umbrella, to sign the UN nuclear-ban treaty. Japan has refused to sign, saying it seeks to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states.

Francis has gone further than other popes on the nuclear matter, saying that not only the use, but the mere possession of nuclear weapons is “to be firmly condemned.”

Francis will likely repeat his appeal for a total ban on nuclear weapons when he visits Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where 140,000 were killed by another US atomic bomb.

He will meet with survivors of those bombs, as well as those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed a March 2011 tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan.

“Your country knows well the suffering caused by war,” Francis said in a video message to the Japanese on the eve of his trip. “Along with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons never is let loose again on human history. The use of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Takami, 73, grew up hearing stories from his relatives of the suffering that many in Nagasaki endured after the bombing and is reminded of his determination for peace every time he visits Urakami Cathedral.

“Any weapon is ghastly, but nuclear weapons are hundreds of times more so,” Takami said, adding they should be abolished. “World leaders should be ashamed of talking from a safe and distant place about nuclear weapons, calling them a deterrent even though they can kill hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.”

Many in Nagasaki are happy that the pope is coming first to their city, which is often eclipsed by the events in Hiroshima.

“I hope he will use his trip to Nagasaki to send a powerful message of the need to ban nuclear weapons,” said Chizuko Maruo, the daughter of an atomic bombing survivor who will attend the pope’s Sunday Mass at a city baseball stadium.

Francis will also greet some descendants of the Hidden Christians, who developed their own unique prayer known as the “Orasho,” or oratio, while hiding in Nagasaki’s northern islands, where some local Shinto and Buddhist residents supported them.

Francis, who is known to Japanese Catholics as Papa-sama, will also hold a Mass in Hiroshima and in Tokyo and meet with Japan’s emperor and prime minister.

Francis’ messages about life are universal and still can reach people’s hearts, especially given the state of global politics, said Kagefumi Ueno, a former Japanese ambassador to the Vatican.

“At a time when global leaders are increasingly becoming populist, the pope’s words can be a virtue of the international community and a moral authority,” he said.

As a youth Francis is said to have been fascinated by the history of the Christian experience in Nagasaki and wanted to be a missionary there.

The area around Nagasaki became the center of a rapid Catholic expansion after the 1549 arrival to Japan of St. Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary. More than a quarter-million Japanese are said to have converted until the Tokugawa shogunate, fearing that Christianity was the beginning of Western domination, outlawed it 1612.

Christians were forced to renounce their beliefs on pain of death and to trample on Catholic icons. When discovered, Christians were tortured. Many were thrown into boiling hot springs or burned to death.

A small, determined Catholic minority went into hiding and practiced their faith in secret for more than 250 years. The Hidden Christians finally broke their silence in 1865 by approaching a foreign priest. But with the ban on Christianity still in place, the 3,300 Catholics were banished from Nagasaki and were not allowed to return until the ban was lifted in 1873. They built their long-dreamed-of cathedral in 1914.

Mitsuho Nakata, an artisan who makes Catholic statues near Urakami, is the great-grandson of a samurai who cut ties with his feudal lord to pursue his Catholic faith. A group of samurai ambushed and killed most of his great-grandfather’s family.

After studying at a Catholic theological school, Nakata returned to work in the family-run workshop his father started.

“My family is here only because our ancestors kept their faith despite constant fear of getting killed or tortured,” Nakata said at his workshop, surrounded by dozens of statues of the Virgin Mary and saints. “I’m so impressed by their devotion and their strong faith and that they abandoned everything they had for it.”