MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian navy said Saturday there is almost no hope of rescuing any survivors from a crippled nuclear submarine that has been on the bottom of the Barents Sea for a week.
Vice Adm. Mikhail Motsak said rescue efforts would not end but there was almost no chance that anyone could still be alive on the Kursk.
He called it the greatest catastrophe in the history of the Russian Navy.
"Regrettably, in effect we have crossed the critical boundary of insuring the life of the crew," he said in an interview on Russia's RTR television. "The lack of contact with the submarine allows us to say that apparently the critical condition of the crew has already arrived," Motsak said.
"Most possibly, we will have to admit that our worst expectations have materialized," he said.
Motsak said it appeared most of the crew were killed in the first minutes when the submarine slammed into the bottom of the sea and any survivors drowned. Officials say a massive explosion shattered the submarine.
A British rescue team with an advanced mini-submarine was still heading for the rescue scene and was expected to arrive Saturday night. The Russian Navy did not indicate whether the British would still launch a rescue bid.
Motsak said rescue efforts would continue at least through Sunday. A government commission investigating the disaster said Saturday that the Kursk suffered a massive explosion, which ripped through the confined space of the submarine. The explosion apparently was in the forward torpedo compartment, which was loaded with up to 30 warheads.
Russian rescue teams failed Saturday to latch on to the badly damaged rescue hatch at the rear of the submarine. High currents and zero visibility have frustrated the rescue efforts for days.
Earlier Saturday, Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the situation was "beyond critical."
Adm. Vyacheslav Popov, commander of the Northern Fleet, said there had been no contact of any kind with the submarine since Monday despite repeated claims that knocking had been heard from inside the vessel.
Popov said Friday that the ship was crippled by a huge internal explosion when it went down. Officials said earlier the Kursk had been in a collision, but Popov said the explosion could have been triggered from inside.
"There may be two causes of the explosion -- an external impact, that is to say a collision, or internal," he said on RTR.
U.S. and Norwegian authorities detected two explosions in the area Aug. 12 at the time the Kursk was lost. A Norwegian seismic center said the second blast registered at magnitude 3.5, equivalent to a mild earthquake.
Russian officials have not determined precisely how the submarine got into trouble. There have been no reports of other vessels in the area with which the Kursk might have collided. A likely scenario was that a torpedo in the Kursk's forward compartment exploded, setting off a much bigger explosion.
The Navy had given wildly contradictory estimates of how long the Kursk's emergency oxygen supplies could last, ranging from a few hours to two weeks. But officials admitted they had no idea of conditions inside the submarine.
Many Russians are distressed that the military was slow to accept help and are angry at President Vladimir Putin for keeping a low profile and staying on vacation when the vessel went down.
Putin returned to Moscow from Ukraine early Saturday, cutting short his trip to a summit of former Soviet republics. He said he did not fly to the rescue site because it would have been a distraction to the recovery efforts.
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