The Russian Defense Ministry released a statement Tuesday saying that a fire broke out on one of the Russian navy’s deep-sea research submersibles, and toxic fumes from the blaze killed 14 sailors aboard.
However the Ministry released only a few details about the disaster or the vessel involved. The statement shed no light on how many sailors were aboard the vessel during Monday’s fire, whether there were any survivors or if it was submerged at the time.
Meanwhile Russian media reported it was the country’s most secret submersible, a nuclear-powered vessel designed for sensitive missions at great depths.
Russia’s RBC online news outlet and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper identified it as the nuclear-powered AS-12 Losharik.
“It’s a huge loss for the navy,” President Putin said. “I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims. It’s isn’t a regular vessel. It’s a research vessel with a highly professional crew,” Putin said, adding that seven of the dead had the rank of captain and two were awarded the nation’s highest medal, the Hero of Russia.
President Vladimir Putin reportedly canceled a scheduled appearance and immediately summoned Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for a briefing on the blaze.
“Fourteen submariners have died of poisoning by fumes from the fire,” Shoigu told Putin during a televised meeting. “The fire was extinguished thanks to the crew’s resolute action.”
The vessel has been towed to the Severomorsk naval base. An investigation into the incident has been initiated by the Russian Investigative Committee.
The vessel is the most advanced Russian submersible, under a heavy veil of secrecy, and it is believed to have entered service in 2010. It is named after a Soviet-era animated cartoon horse that is made up of small spheres.