Scanpix Denmark/Sarah Christine Noergaard via Reuters
The 14 Russian sailors who died aboard a top secret submarine earlier this month were likely killed by an explosion in the vessel’s battery compartment as they fought to save the ship rather than evacuate, Russian media reportedrecently, citing sources close to the investigation.
The vessel, which Moscow has yet to identify due to the highly-sensitive nature of its mission, has been identified by Russian media outlets as the Losharik, a submarine that is able to operate at depths other boats are unable to reach for secret missions on the seafloor.
Experts have speculated that the submarine’s purpose is intelligence gathering and, possibly, targeting undersea cables and strategic assets.
In the wake of the accident earlier this month, a top Russian naval officer said that the crew “prevented a planetary catastrophe,” perhaps a reference to the preservation of the sub, as well as its onboard nuclear reactor. It is unclear exactly what the officer may have meant.
A deep-diving vessel believed to be the Losharik caught fire on July 1, setting off a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the deaths of its crew. New details were recently reported on the crew’s fight to save their burning sub.
The Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, reports that the crew of the secretive Russian submarine would likely have survived if they had abandoned the firefight, an option given that the Losharik had completed its mission and was reportedly in the process of docking with the Podmoskovie, a larger sub, at the time of the fire.
Sources told the Kommersant that the fire was not a serious threat to the crew initially, as each had access to portable breathing devices and firefighting equipment.
“The submariners acted heroically in the critical situation,” Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, said earlier this month.
“They evacuated a civilian expert from the compartment that was engulfed by fire and shut the door to prevent the fire from spreading further and fought for the ship’s survival until the end.”
Rather than evacuate, the crew fought for the top-secret submarine’s survival, exhausting all available breathing and firefighting equipment onboard. The Losharik’s crew is said to have acted in accordance with the Russian navy’s “Guidelines for Fighting for the Survivability of the Submarine,” which requires that crew members stand their ground and take action to save the submarine.
When the Russian sailors began to lose consciousness, an evacuation order was reportedly given. Four crew members from the Podmoskovie are said to have attempted to assist the ten sailors aboard the Losharik make their way out.
A suspected explosion in the battery compartment is believed to have killed everyone inside the vessel before they could escape, the Kommersant reported.
The Kommersant, relying on information provided by specialists, speculated that the fire may have initially been caused by a faulty battery or a problem in the electrical system.
The exact origin of the fire is unknown as everyone onboard was killed in the incident, the deadliest Russian naval accident since 2008.
“I doubt the Russians ever reveal the cause, at least in its entirety,” A.D. Baker, a former naval intelligence officer, previously told INSIDER.
“The aging Russian Navy (and the predecessor Soviet Navy) in general has had a far higher number of operational accidents than any other ‘major’ fleet, and a large number of those accidents have involved fires.”