Sat, 11 Nov 2000

Kursk sailor's note found

The note recovered from the body of an officer in the remains of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk is an agonizing reminder of the horror its crew suffered at the bottom of the Barents Sea. But it offers no clue to the massive explosion that sank the vessel in August, and the Russian government remains as secretive as ever.

That is cause for concern.

The Russians now confirm that at least 23 sailors and perhaps many more survived the initial explosions aboard the Kursk. They bravely made their way to the compartment of the sub where the escape hatch is located. But, as the note tragically relates, "None of us can get to the surface."

Like the rest of the world, these shipmates expected that their government would do everything possible to rescue them. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to cut short his vacation to attend to rescue efforts and with what appeared to be old-style Soviet arrogance balked at repeated offers of help from Britain, Norway and other countries. When he finally did address the crisis, it was only to lie and raise false hopes. Perhaps that was to be expected. The Kursk was one of eight nuclear subs Russia launched in the '90s. It cost $1 billion. But it was sent to sea without emergency batteries that might have saved its crew.

Even now, as the dead are being removed from the sunken behemoth, Russian officials continue to deny the most likely explanation for the Kursk's demise on-board explosions. They blame instead a collision with a foreign submarine.

The United States and Britain say that none of their ships was involved. The Kursk had a rubberized hull designed to withstand even torpedoes. Experts say a vessel that struck hard enough to cause such damage could not have escaped undetected. Which makes the Russian position as implausible now as it was in August.

Russia is laboring heroically to raise the remains of the Kursk. Hopefully, in the process, it will find the will to dredge up the truth.

-- The Daily News, New York