MOSCOW - The Russian navy does not have the funds this year to buy underwater rescue vessels of the type Britain sent to Russia to save the lives of seven men trapped in a mini-sub in the Pacific last month, the new chief said Monday.
"We do not have the money at the moment," but the navy expected to obtain the money next year, Adm. Vladimir Masorin was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Russian naval authorities said after the crisis that they would buy two Scorpio underwater robotic vehicles. Each vessel costs between $1 million and $5 million, depending on the configuration.
The mini-sub became trapped in fishing nets as it inspected an underwater antenna assembly. Three days later and with oxygen supplies rapidly dwindling, the British Scorpio cut through the cables and freed the Russian vessel.
The need for foreign help underlined the troubles of the once-formidable Russian navy, which has fallen prey to money shortages and, many critics say, poor leadership. Sea rescue vehicles were among the first Soviet-built vessels to be scrapped amid the desperate funding shortages that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse.
President Vladimir Putin appointed Masorin on Sunday after firing Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov. The Russian leader indicated Kuroyedov was bearing the blame for a series of embarrassments in the navy.
Under Kuroyedov's leadership, the Navy suffered its worst post-Soviet disaster when the Kursk nuclear submarine exploded and sank in the Barents Sea in 200, killing its entire crew of 118. In August 2003, nine members of a 10-man crew died when their submarine sank in gale-force winds in the Barents Sea as it was being towed to a scrap yard.
Masorin, speaking in televised comments, said Rear Adm. Alexander Zaika had been fired and several other senior navy officials received reprimands over the mini-sub accident.
Zaika, who was in charge of the mini-sub's operation and the initial rescue efforts, had failed to order it to raise to the surface even though its crew reported its acoustic system had failed, Masorin said.
When the mini-sub got trapped, the navy officials tried to save the crew using the British-made Venom underwater vehicle, but it broke down after being used by an inexperienced operator. Local navy officials were also slow to report the mini-sub accident to headquarters in Moscow, causing a delay in rescue efforts, Masorin said.
He said the sub's crew also made several errors, but added they wouldn't face any punishment.
Putin on Sunday presented orders for bravery to the seven mini-sub crewmen and state awards to eight foreigners - five Britons, one Japanese and two Americans - who assisted the rescue effort.
September 8, 2005