Russia’s defence minister on Wednesday said some crew members survived a deadly fire that killed 14 sailors on one of the Russian navy’s deep-sea research submersibles.

Sergei Shoigu didn’t say how many crew members were rescued from Monday’s fire. Speaking Wednesday at the navy’s Arctic base of Severomorsk, he praised the vessel’s crew for “heroic” action, saying they sacrificed their lives to rescue a civilian expert and save the ship after the fire erupted.

Details were scarce about the incident. The Defence Ministry said the seamen were killed by toxic fumes from the blaze, but did not specify how many crewmembers were aboard the vessel at the time.

It said the ship was on a mission to measure sea depths in Russia’s territorial waters in the Barents Sea.

Russian media reported it was the country’s most secret submersible, a nuclear-powered vessel designed for sensitive missions at great depths.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came under criticism for his handling of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster in 2000 that killed 118 sailors, cancelled a scheduled appearance Tuesday and immediately summoned Shoigu for a briefing on the blaze.

“It’s a huge loss for the navy,” Putin told Shoigu on Tuesday during a televised meeting. “I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims.”

He added that the vessel had a special mission and an elite crew.

“It isn’t a regular vessel. It’s a research vessel with a highly professional crew,” Putin said, adding that seven of the dead had the rank of captain and two were awarded the nation’s highest medal, the Hero of Russia.



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