’Russian submersible fire details are state secrets’

Russia refused to release any details about a fire which killed a 14 crew aboard a submersible on Monday, saying the information was a “state secret”.

Revealing the incident on Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry said the men died from smoke inhalation.

Authorities refused to say whether the vessel was nuclear powered, raising concerns over possible radiation leaks.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said details about the vessel were “totally classified”.

“There is nothing illegal about this. It fully corresponds to the Russian law on state secrets,” he said.

Defence authorities said the vessel was a navy research submersible that was taking measurements in Russian waters.

But Russian independent media outlets reported that it was a small nuclear-powered submarine, naming it as the AS-12 Losharik. US officials said the vessel was designed to cut undersea cables.

The craft is now at Severomorsk, the main base of Russia’s Northern Fleet on the Barents Sea. The port was also home to the Russian Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank in 2000 killing 118 sailors.

In a conference call with journalists, Mr Peskov said it was “absolutely normal” to keep details about a vessel confidential, adding that it was in “the interests of the state and state security”.

He refused to answer questions about the vessel’s name, mission, or whether the craft had a nuclear reactor, telling reporters to ask the defence ministry.

President Putin was informed “immediately” about the deaths, Mr Peskov said, adding that the crew had “acted heroically to save the vessel”. Russian authorities did not release details of the incident for a day after it happened.

Mr Putin expressed his “sincere condolences” to the victims’ families and said seven captains and two service personnel who were among the dead had been awarded Russia’s highest honorary title – Hero of the Russian Federation.

Asked if the president would meet relatives of the dead crew, Mr Peskov said Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had been sent to Severomorsk.

He said the president had returned to Moscow and ordered an investigation into the deaths.

Unconfirmed Russian news reports said that at least five crew members survived the incident and were taken to hospital. –BBC

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