Kursk hull pierced as weather worsens

Russian and Norwegian divers, working in an increasingly stormy Barents Sea to retrieve the remains of 118 sailors from the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk, penetrated the strong inner hull of the vessel Sunday. The divers made a four-inch hole after cutting through the softer outer hull, the head of the Northern Fleet's press service, Vladimir Navrotsky, told RTR state television. Navrotsky said it would probably take at least until early Monday before the divers could clear a passage wide enough to enter the vessel, which sank in August -- Russia's worst nuclear submarine disaster. Navrotsky said the divers felt well and deteriorating weather in the Arctic region should not halt their work. ``By the end of the day the wind is expected to strengthen, but specialists say the worsening weather will not influence the organization and carrying out of diving work,'' he said. He added that the divers had taken samples of water from inside the eighth compartment of the submarine, which is lying at a depth of 300 feet. Radiation levels were normal and they had discovered no traces of fuel. ``The compartment is completely filled with pure water,'' he said. Itar-Tass news agency said this augured well for the safe continuation of the work, which has been complicated by the need to remove the outer hull's rubber lining and clear a way through high-pressure air ducts and other fittings. The divers, working from the Norwegian offshore platform Regalia, have to make seven holes in the Kursk to reach each corner of the 505-foot sub, which was badly damaged by explosions. Divers could face grave danger trying to enter the Kursk, not only from intense cold and darkness, but also from jagged metal debris inside the wreck that could puncture their survival suits. Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov instructed divers Friday not to attempt anything that might endanger them. ``You should think of your lives and your families,'' he said Friday in footage broadcast on RTR. The operation is being run by the Norwegian arm of U.S. oil services firm Halliburton. Norwegian divers have been doing most of the survey work and cutting holes in the sub. But only Russian military divers will actually go inside the vessel, Peuters reports.