MOSCOW -- Russia's top prosecutor led investigators Tuesday onto the deck of the nuclear submarine Kursk, hoping to find new clues to what caused the vessel to explode and sink more than a year ago.
Crew members on the barge that lifted the submarine from the Barents Sea floor and towed it to a floating dock in Roslyakovo, near the Arctic port Murmansk, lowered wreaths into the water to honor the Kursk's 118 dead.
The Giant-4 barge then headed away as the Kursk was raised to the point where its conning tower, with its shattered glass windows and red Russian eagle seal, could be seen above water.
With the Kursk fully out of the water, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, top navy officials and a team of about 40 investigators observed a moment of silence before stepping onto the submarine's deck. The first on board was Lt. Gleb Lyachin, the son of Kursk's late captain Gennady Lyachin.
"What we did is called examining the site," Ustinov said. "The impression is harsh, especially as we know that there are our dead sailors inside the boat."
Navy officials have said they expect to find only 30 to 40 bodies when they enter the sub, with the rest likely pulverized by the explosion. Twelve bodies were recovered when the Kursk was still on the sea floor.
Toxic gases built up
Investigators who enter the vessel will have to wear gas masks, since toxic gases have built up in the submarine during its 14 months at the bottom of the sea following its sinking during naval maneuvers in August 2000, ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is responsible for the Kursk salvage operation, said that it would take up to three days to dry out the submarine for an internal inspection, the Interfax news agency reported.
Klebanov dampened expectations of what the investigation could reveal, saying "nothing new will be found in the raised submarine" that could help "in understanding the causes of the Kursk catastrophe," Interfax reported.
However, Russian Northern Fleet commander Adm. Vyacheslav Popov said that investigators hoped to find recording devices inside the Kursk that could help in the probe.
Many Russian and foreign experts have said the initial explosion was sparked by an internal malfunction, but government officials say the Kursk may have collided with another vessel or World War II mine.