Clutching carnations and sobbing under a bright Arctic sun, the families of the 118 men killed when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank a year ago paid tribute to them at memorial ceremonies Sunday.
In the closed naval town of Vidyayevo, where the Kursk crew was based, goose-stepping soldiers laid wreaths at a monument for sailors who died at sea.
Later, a memorial plaque etched with the names of all 118 crew members was unveiled at the pier where the Kursk had been docked. After a moment of silence, the relatives, many dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs, laid flowers at the edge of the dock as the sailors’ names were read over a loudspeaker. Some flung roses into the sea.
They then gathered for a service at the town’s small wooden church. The morning sun gave way to rain, and those relatives who could not fit inside the church huddled under umbrellas just outside the door.
Church services around the country honored the sailors who died in the accident on Aug. 12, 2000.
Russian sailors from the Pacific port of Vladivostok to Sevastopol on the Black Sea observed a moment of silence for the Kursk crew, Russian media said.
The anniversary comes as an international operation is underway to raise the Kursk in mid-September. Officials say salvaging the vessel could shed light on the disaster’s cause.
“For the naval command, in investigating the cause of the sinking of the Kursk, there is nothing more important than achieving the maximum level of clarity. This is task No. 1,” navy commander Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov said in televised remarks at the ceremonies in Vidyayevo.
The government has said the explosion that sank the Kursk was caused by a practice torpedo. But it remains unclear whether the torpedo exploded due to an internal flaw — the theory favored by most outside experts — or by a collision, possibly with a foreign vessel.
Russian officials have tried to turn the salvage operation into a show of openness.
During the crisis last year, the government came under strong criticism for releasing contradictory information. Most journalists were kept away from Vidyayevo and other closed military towns, and only a state television crew was allowed to report from the site of the disaster.
Kuroyedov said Sunday that as far as the salvage operation was concerned, the navy had “disregarded the secrecy that always goes with the submarine fleet.”
“It is far more important to raise the submarine than to keep any secrets. This problem arouses the public’s deep concern,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.