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30 December 2011

After 20-hour battle, Russia douses fire on nuclear sub

Image: Firefighters work to extinguish fire at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the northern Russian region of Murmansk.

Russia said on Friday it had doused a raging blaze aboard a nuclear submarine after nearly a full day and night, by partially submerging the vessel after battling the flames with water from helicopters and tug boats.

There was no radiation leak and crew inside the submarine were monitoring the stricken vessel's nuclear reactors which had been shut down, Russian officials said.

At least nine people were injured fighting the flames which witnesses quoted by local media said rose 30 feet above the Yekaterinburg submarine at the navy ship yard in the Murmansk region of northern Russia.

"The fire on the submarine has been totally extinguished," Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu told officials leading the firefighting effort, more than twenty hours after the blaze began Thursday afternoon at 7:20 a.m. ET.

His remarks were reported by Interfax news agency.

An unspecified number of crew remain inside a burning nuclear submarine that caught fire on Thursday at an Arctic shipyard, Russia's military said Friday.

Seven other crew were sent to hospitals after inhaling toxic fumes, the country's defense ministry said.

State-owned news agency RIA reported military proescutor spokesman Alexander Grigoriev saying: "Some of [the crew] are still on the submarine. They consist of those servicemen who are ensuring the safety of of the nuclear submarine."

It said there has been no radiation leak from the fire on board the submarine Yekaterinburg, which was in drydock.

Fire brigades were still struggling to put out the blaze on Friday at 12 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET).

The military said the fire had begun on wooden scaffolding and then engulfed the submarine's rubber-coated outer hull. It said the sub's nuclear reactor had been shut down and its 16 nuclear-tipped missiles had been unloaded before the repairs.

The ministry's statement left it unclear whether the crew members inside the vessel were trapped there or ordered to stay inside.

Emergency workers said efforts to partially sink the submarine at the dock had failed to fully extinguish the fire.

A defense ministry spokesman said on Thursday the nuclear reactor had been shut down and all weapons had been removed from the Yekaterinburg, which launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea at a firing range thousands of miles away in Kamchatka as recently as July.

The Yekaterinburg is a Delta-IV-class nuclear-powered submarine that normally carries 16 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was built in 1984.

Most modern submarines' outer hulls are covered with rubber to make them less noisy and more difficult for an enemy to detect.