Putin, after three days, says fire-hit Russian submarine was nuclear-powered

Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss a recent incident with a Russian deep-sea submersible, which caught fire in the area of the Barents Sea, in Moscow, Russia July 4, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn and Andrey Kuzmin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin disclosed on Thursday for the first time that a secret military submarine hit by a fatal fire three days ago was nuclear-powered, prompting the defense minister to assure him its reactor had been safely contained.

Russian officials have faced accusations of trying to cover up the full details of the accident that killed 14 sailors as they were carrying out what the defense ministry called a survey of the sea floor near the Arctic.

Moscow’s slow release of information about the incident has drawn comparisons with the opaque way the Soviet Union handled the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster, and another deadly submarine accident — the 2000 sinking of the nuclear-powered Kursk, which claimed 118 lives.

Russia, which says the details of the submarine involved in the latest accident are classified, said the fire took place on Monday, though it was only officially disclosed late on Tuesday.

Until Thursday there was also no official word on whether the vessel had a nuclear reactor, despite strong interest from neighboring Norway.

Putin revealed that the submarine had been nuclear-powered by asking Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during a Kremlin meeting about the reactor’s condition after the fire.

“The nuclear reactor on the vessel is completely isolated,” Shoigu told Putin, according to a Kremlin transcript. “All the necessary measures were taken by the crew to protect the reactor, which is in complete working order.”

The fire erupted in the submarine’s battery compartment, Shoigu added, and later spread.

Although the Kremlin publicized the meeting on Thursday morning, it was not immediately clear when the men had met.

“There has not been any formal communication from Russia to us about this,” Per Strand, a director at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, told Reuters when asked if it had been informed that the submarine was nuclear-powered.

“We understand they brought the situation under control quickly, under difficult conditions, and there was, as such, no nuclear incident that they were obligated to tell us about.

“Still, we would have been happy to have been informed of such incidents,” he added.

TOP-SECRET SUBMARINE

Russian servicemen attended a memorial service on Thursday in the port city of Kronstadt near St Petersburg in honor of the 14 dead submariners.

Held in the hulking Russian Orthodox Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas, sailors cradled lit candles and looked on as priests read out prayers and a choir chanted in the background.

Shoigu, a close Putin ally, told the president that the submarine, which authorities said had been operating in the Barents Sea area, would be fully repaired.

“Right now, we are assessing how long it will take, how much work there is, and how we can carry it out,” he said.

Shoigu’s ministry has released photographs of the deceased sailors, hailing them as “real patriots of the Motherland”.

Separately, a photograph of a tribute to them circulated on social media which appeared to have been hung on the wall of a Russian military facility. Reuters could not immediately confirm its authenticity, but it said the men had served on board a deep-sea submersible known by the designation AS-31.

Russian media have previously reported, without official confirmation, that the vessel was designated as either AS-31 or AS-12 and is designed to carry out special operations at depths where regular submarines cannot operate.

The submarine is made up of a series of inter-connected spheres that allow it to resist water pressure at great depths. Western military experts have suggested it is capable of probing and possibly even severing undersea communications cables.

Putin ordered Shoigu to prepare posthumous state awards for the dead submariners. An official investigation into the accident, likely to be shrouded in secrecy, is already underway.

(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Ttrault-Farber in Moscow and by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jon Boyle and Gareth Jones)

Water entered missing Argentine sub’s snorkel, causing short circuit

People stand next to a bouquet of flowers and banners in support of the 44 crew members of the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine, outside an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 25, 2017.

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Water entered the snorkel of the Argentine submarine ARA San Juan, causing its battery to short-circuit before it went missing on Nov. 15, a navy spokesman said on Monday as hope dwindled among some families of the 44-member crew.

The San Juan had only a seven-day oxygen supply when it lost contact, and a sudden noise was detected that the navy says could have been the implosion of the vessel. Ships with rescue equipment from countries including the United States and Russia were nonetheless rushing to join the search.

Before its disappearance, the submarine had been ordered back to its Mar del Plata base after it reported water had entered the vessel through its snorkel, causing a battery short circuit, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told a news conference.

“They had to isolate the battery and continue to sail underwater toward Mar del Plata, using another battery,” Balbi said.

After contact with the San Juan was lost, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization, an international body that runs a global network of listening posts designed to check for secret atomic blasts, detected a noise the navy said could have been the submarine’s implosion.

The search for the 65-meter (213-foot) diesel-electric submarine is concentrated in an area some 430 km (267 miles) off Argentina’s southern coast. The effort includes ships and planes manned by 4,000 personnel from 13 countries, including Brazil, Chile and Great Britain.

Among the crew’s family members, fissures started appearing on Monday between those who refuse to give up hope and those who say it is time to accept that their loved ones will not come back alive.

Some relatives have said they are focusing on the lack of physical evidence of an implosion and the possibility that the submarine might have risen close enough to the ocean surface to replenish its oxygen supply after it went missing.

But Itati Leguizamon said she believed her husband, crew member German Suarez, had died.

“There is no way they are alive,” she told reporters, her voice shaking and eyes welling with tears. “It is not that I want this. I love him. I adore him. He left his mother and sister behind, but there is no sense in being stubborn.

“The other families are attacking me for what I am saying,” she said, “but why have they not found it yet? Why don’t they tell us the truth?”

 

(Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Search for missing Argentine submarine reaches ‘critical phase’

Search for missing Argentine submarine reaches 'critical phase'

By Walter Bianchi and Nicolás Misculin

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The search for an Argentine navy submarine missing in the South Atlantic for one week reached a “critical phase” on Wednesday as the 44 crew on board could be running low on oxygen, a navy spokesman said.

Dozens of planes and boats were searching for the ARA San Juan. Favorable weather meant boats could cover a greater area after being hampered by strong winds and high waves for much of the past few days, although poor weather was expected to return on Thursday, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said.

If the German-built submarine had sunk or was otherwise unable to rise to the surface since it gave its last location on Nov. 15, it would be using up the last of its seven-day oxygen supply.

“We are in the critical phase…particularly with respect to oxygen,” Balbi told reporters. “There has been no contact with anything that could be the San Juan submarine.”

Around 30 boats and planes and 4,000 people from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil have joined the search for the submarine, which last transmitted its location about 300 miles (480 km) from the coast.

Planes have covered some 500,000 square kilometers (190,000 square miles) of the ocean surface, but much of the area has not yet been scoured by the boats.

Several possible signals, including sounds and flares, that have been detected have turned out to be false alarms. Overnight, a British ship reported observing three orange and white flares, but they did not come from the vessel, Balbi said.

The submarine was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina. It was en route from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, some 250 miles (400 km) south of Buenos Aires, when it reported an electrical malfunction shortly before disappearing last week.

Relatives of the crew members have been gathered at a naval base in Mar del Plata, where the search is being coordinated.

“We came today because we had hope that they had returned,” Elena Alfaro, the sister of crew member and radar expert Cristian Ibanez, told Reuters, in tears. “It is incomprehensible that so much time has passed. We are in pain.”

(Additional reporting by Juliana Castilla; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Weather improves in search for missing Argentine submarine

Weather improves in search for missing Argentine submarine

By Walter Bianchi

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) – The search continued on Tuesday for an Argentine submarine with 44 crew aboard, missing in the South Atlantic for nearly a week, with improved weather expected to quicken the hunt for the vessel.

Meteorologists expected waves of about 2 meters (6.6 ft) in the search area for the ARA San Juan, down from 8 meters over the weekend. Rescue boats have scoured about 80 percent of the search area, but storms and high winds have limited the effort in the past several days.

“Today is a critical day,” said Maria Victoria Morales, the mother of Luis Garcia, an electrical technician aboard the vessel. “We are holding up as well as we can.”

Morales and other relatives of crew members have been gathered at a naval base in Mar del Plata, where authorities are coordinating the search and rescue operation.

The submarine was en route from Ushuaia in Argentina’s extreme south to the coastal city of Mar del Plata when it sent its last location on Nov. 15.

More than a dozen boats and planes from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil have joined the search. Authorities have mainly been scanning from the sky as storms have halted the maritime hunt.

“We trust that the boats assigned to each zone can do an effective maritime patrol, and will not be struggling against the storm as they were in recent days,” Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Monday night.

Searchers have suffered disappointments in recent days as analyses have shown that satellite signals and sounds detected by underwater probes initially thought to be messages from the crew did not come from the vessel.

The submarine had reported an electrical problem and was heading back to its base in Mar del Plata when it disappeared on Wednesday nearly 300 miles off the coast.

The U.S. Navy was preparing on Tuesday to deploy rescue equipment, including a remote-operated vehicle.

The ARA San Juan was inaugurated in 1983, the newest of three submarines in the Navy’s fleet. Built in Germany, it underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

The maintenance included the replacement of its four diesel engines and its electric propeller engines, according to specialist publication Jane’s Sentinel.

(This version of the story corrects Balbi statement to Monday night, not Sunday night in paragraph seven)

(Reporting by Walter Bianchi; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Pakistan fires ‘first submarine-launched nuclear-capable missile’

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan fired its first submarine-launched cruise missile on Monday, the military said, a show of force for a country that sees its missile development as a deterrent against arch-foe India.

The launch of the nuclear-capable Babur-3 missile, which has a range of 450 km (280 miles) and was fired from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean, is likely to heighten long-running tension between India and Pakistan.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Both nations have been developing missiles of varying ranges since they conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

“Pakistan eyes this hallmark development as a step toward reinforcing the policy of credible minimum deterrence,” the military’s media wing said in a statement.

A spokesman at the Indian defense ministry was not immediately available to comment on the Pakistani missile test.

India successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched missile in 2008 and tested a submarine-launched cruise missile in 2013.

The Pakistani military said the Babur-3 missile was “capable of delivering various types of payloads and will provide Pakistan with a Credible Second Strike Capability, augmenting deterrence”.

An army spokesman later confirmed the language meant the missile was equipped to carry nuclear warheads.

The Babur-3 is a sea-based variant of the ground-launched Babur-2 missile, which was tested in December. The military said the missile had features such as “underwater controlled propulsion and advanced guidance and navigation”.

Last year, Pakistan said it was “seriously concerned” by India’s test of anti-ballistic missiles which media reports said could intercept incoming nuclear weapons.

According to media reports, on May 15 India tested a locally designed Anti-Ballistic Missile system which could in theory intercept a nuclear-carrying ballistic missile.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Nick Macfie)

North Korea’s Kim declares sub missile launch ‘greatest success’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test-firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile and declared it “the greatest success,” which puts the country in the “front rank” of nuclear military powers, official media reported on Thursday.

North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Wednesday which flew about 500 km (300 miles) towards Japan. The South Korean government and experts said the launch showed technical progress in the North’s SLBM program.

“A test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile was successfully conducted under the guidance of supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong Un,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

“He appreciated the test-fire as the greatest success and victory,” KCNA said.

“He noted with pride that the results of the test-fire proved in actuality that the DPRK joined the front rank of the military powers fully equipped with nuclear attack capability.”

DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s formal name.

A test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile is seen in this undated photo

A test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korea has conducted a spate of military technology tests this year, including a fourth nuclear test in January and numerous ballistic missile launches, in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions that were tightened in March.

North Korea said this year it had miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a ballistic missile but outside experts have said there is yet no firm evidence to back up that claim or show it had mastered the technology to bring a live warhead back into the atmosphere and guide it to strike a target.

North Korean state television on Thursday showed video clips of the launch of a missile from underwater at dawn, and still photographs of Kim on the dock at a port as a large crane unloaded an object onto a submarine.

Kim is also seen jubilantly celebrating with military aides in photographs carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

REACHED JAPAN DEFENCE ZONE

The Washington-based 38 North project said in a report that the missile was launched from the North’s sole experimental missile submarine and a satellite photograph taken on Monday showed final preparations, likely after the missile had already been loaded onto the submarine using a heavy construction crane.

The test showed the solid-fuel missile’s control and guidance system as well as the atmospheric re-entry of the warhead all met operational requirements, KCNA said.

The South Korean and U.S. militaries said the missile was fired from near the coastal city of Sinpo, where a submarine base is located. Japan said the missile reached its air defense identification zone, the first time by a North Korean missile.

The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Wednesday at the request of the United States and Japan to discuss the launch. Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Petr Iliichev said the United States would circulate a draft press statement.

The meeting comes after the Security Council was unable to condemn a missile launch by the North earlier this month that landed near Japan because China wanted the statement to also oppose the planned deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

China said on Wednesday that it opposes the North’s nuclear and missile programs. It had been angered by what it views as provocative moves by the United States and South Korea on the decision to deploy the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-missile system in South Korea.

(Additional reporting by Minwoo Park in Seoul and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

North Korea fires submarine launched ballistic missile

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides on the spot the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile

By Ju-min Park and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a submarine-launched missile on Wednesday that flew about 500 km (311 miles) towards Japan, a show of improving technological capability for the isolated country that has conducted a series of launches in defiance of UN sanctions.

Having the ability to fire a missile from a submarine could help North Korea evade a new anti-missile system planned for South Korea and pose a threat even if nuclear-armed North Korea’s land-based arsenal was destroyed, experts said.

The ballistic missile was fired at around 5:30 a.m. (2030 GMT) from near the coastal city of Sinpo, where a submarine base is located, officials at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defence Ministry told Reuters.

The projectile reached Japan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) for the first time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a briefing, referring to an area of control designated by countries to help maintain air security.

The missile was fired at a high angle, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, an indication that its full range would be 1,000 km (620 miles) at an ordinary trajectory. The distance indicated the North’s push to develop a submarine-launched missile system was paying off, officials and experts said.

North Korea’s “SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) technology appears to have progressed,” a South Korean military official told Reuters.

Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said the test appeared to be a success.

“We don’t know the full range, but 500 km is either full range or a full range on a lofted trajectory. Either way, that missile works.”

The launch came two days after rival South Korea and the United States began annual military exercises in the South that North Korea condemns as a preparation for invasion, and has threatened retaliation.

Beijing is Pyongyang’s main ally but has joined past U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North. It has been angered by what it views as provocative moves by the United States and South Korea, including their July decision to base the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-missile system in South Korea.

China opposes North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme as well as any words or deeds that cause tension on the Korean peninsula, its foreign minister, Wang Yi, said on Wednesday at previously scheduled meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the launch and warned of more sanctions and isolation for its rival that “will only speed up its self-destruction.”

“This poses a grave threat to Japan’s security, and is an unforgivable act that damages regional peace and stability markedly,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, adding that Japan had lodged a stern protest.

GROWING ISOLATION

North Korea has become further isolated after a January nuclear test, its fourth, and the launch of a long-range rocket in February which brought tightened UN sanctions.

It has launched numerous missiles of various types this year, including one this month that landed in or near Japanese-controlled waters.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Review, said claiming to have mastered SLBM technology is as much about prestige as a military breakthrough, a status enjoyed only by six countries including the United States, Russia and China.

“I think it’s meant foremost as a demonstration of sheer technical capability and a demand for status and respect,” Pollack said.

South Korea believes the North has a fleet of more than 70 aging, limited-range submarines – a mix of Chinese, Russian and locally made boats. Acquiring a fleet of submarines large and quiet enough and with a longer range would be a next step for the North, experts said.

“They keep conducting nuclear tests and SLBMs together which means they are showing they can arm SLBMs with miniaturised nuclear warheads,” said Moon Keun-sik, a retired South Korean navy officer and an expert in submarine warfare.

North Korea said this year it had miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a ballistic missile but outside experts have said there is yet to be firm evidence to back up the claim.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula were exacerbated by the recent defection of North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London to South Korea, an embarrassing setback to the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

(Additional reporting by James Pearson and Yun Hwan Chae in Seoul, Phil Stewart and David Alexander in Washington, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Israeli Navy Head Vows To Fight Anywhere

The head of the Israeli Navy has stated that he will put his ships everywhere if that’s what it takes to defend the nation of Israel.

“We will guard, protect and act in any enemy coast, and fight bravely for the nevy and the state of Israel,” Admiral Ram Rothberg said during a memorial ceremony.

The ceremony was to remember the INS Dakar and held on the INS Tanin.

“Without a doubt, this power, operationally and strategically, is very important for Israel, the IDF and the navy,” Adm. Rothberg stated. “More than four decades passed since INS Dakar’s last voyage… Although the threats have changed, and today you have the most modern equipment, the most advanced technologies, and the most quality means, the mission remains the same mission that the INS Dakar personnel were sent on,  and the responsibility is the same. To protect the Israeli coast, sea waters, and working with all of the IDF’s branches to achieve the relevant goals.”

The Admirals in attendance at the event said the new submarines will allow them to gain intelligence in places they have been unable to visit in the past.