The fire aboard a Russian submarine doomed to failure could have caused a “planetary catastrophe”, as a senior military official allegedly revealed.
The alleged comments were made at the funeral of the 14 seamen killed in the fire on 1 July in St Petersburg on Saturday.
It is believed that the victims closed a hatch in a desperate attempt to contain the military vessel’s nuclear reactor.
The Kremlin still has to confirm whether it was the actions of the crew members that prevented a potentially catastrophic incident.
With their lives, the 14 sailors saved their comrades, saved the ship and ended a catastrophe of planetary proportions,” Russia’s independent Open Media news agency quoted the anonymous official.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the main cause of the incident was a fire in the submarine’s battery compartment.
Shoigu assured Putin: “The nuclear reactor on the ship is completely isolated.
“The crew has taken all necessary measures to protect the reactor, which is in full operation.
Moscow has said that the crew examined the seabed and that the details of the tragedy are a “state secret”.
But Russian media reported that the ship was a top secret nuclear-powered mini-submarine.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed that the ship was operated for the first time with nuclear power on Friday before the private funeral service, which was closed to the media.
They must understand that the identities of most of the people who have gathered here are secret and their faces cannot be shown,” said a representative of the Ministry of Defense of AFP outside the gates of the cemetery.
A young woman at the ceremony, dressed in black and with a wreath read “by friends and classmates,” said, “This is a great grief.
Even ordinary St. Petersburgers came to the gates of the cemetery to show their respect, including 60-year-old Natalya Stepanova, who said, “I am so sorry for them as if they were my own (family).
They are real heroes,” she added.
During the service there was a military greeting and the Russian national anthem was heard.
Dmitry Razmyslov, 38, attended the funeral to pay his respects to one of the sailors – Dmitry Soloviev – whom he studied at a military academy in the late 1980s.
The Russian Ministry of Defence said Soloviev acted heroically during the accident, evacuating a civilian and closing the ship’s hatch to stop the spread of flame.
Soloviev reportedly rescued a “civilian expert” on board the submarine.
The civilian left the burning part of the ship and the crew member closed the hatch behind him and remained with other crew members in the “fight to save the ship,” the Ministry of Defense said.
Solovyev leaves behind a pregnant woman and a three-year-old son, reports say.
Earlier, on the day of the Russian National Guard, the streets of St. Petersburg were lined with coffins of elite officers killed in a fire aboard a nuclear-powered submarine.
Almost all the victims were highly decorated officers, including seven first-rate officers – the most senior officers of the Russian Navy.
Experts have said that the presence of many high-ranking officers on board could indicate that the submarine was no ordinary task.
In previous cases of major Russian national disasters, funerals were often held in public.
The tragedy recalls the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000, also in the Barents Sea, which claimed 118 lives and shook the first year of Putin’s presidency.
Russian media reported that the 14 seamen are buried near a monument to the Kursk victims at the Serafimovskoye cemetery.