The Russian submarine that caught fire and killed 14 may have been designed to cut undersea internet cables, Russian media says

Losharik submarine russiaRussian MoD

  • A Russian Navy submarine caught fire on Monday, killing 14 sailors on board.
  • Two independent Russian news outlets reported that the vessel was the AS-12 "Losharik," a nuclear-powered vessel designed to cut undersea cables that keep the world's internet running.
  • Moscow officials have remained secretive about the type of vessel and whether it was nuclear-powered, prompting accusations of a cover-up.
  • President Vladimir Putin canceled a scheduled event on Tuesday and told his defense minister to "personally receive reports" on the investigation into the accident.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Russian Navy submarine that caught fire during a mission, killing 14 sailors on board, may have been designed to cut undersea internet cables, Russian media reported.

The vessel caught fire near the naval base of Severomorsk on Monday, and the sailors died of smoke inhalation, Russia's defense ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Russian Vladimir Putin called the incident a "great loss," canceled a scheduled event, and called a urgent meeting with his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu. Putin also ordered an inquiry into the accident, and asked Shoigu to "personally receive reports" on it, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

But Moscow has remained cagey on details of the vessel and its work, prompting suspicion and accusations of a cover-up.

PutinThomas Kronsteiner/Getty

According to the independently-run RBK news agency and Novaya Gazeta newspaper the vessel was the AS-12, a nuclear-powered vessel designed to cut undersea cables that keep the world's internet running. Both outlets cited unnamed sources in their reporting.

The AS-12, also known as "Losharik," was launched in 2003, but details of its capabilities and work have largely remained secret, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

US and other Western officials have long warned that Russian ships have been active in the vicinity of major undersea fiber-optic cables that carry calls, emails, texts, and trillions of dollars' worth of daily financial transactions.

Read more: This incredible map shows the undersea cables that keep the internet alive - and security services are worried Russia could cut them

Norwegian authorities said on Tuesday that they had not detected any abnormal radiation, Reuters reported.

Telegeography internet cables mapTelegeography

Moscow has provided no details on the type or model of the vessel.

The Bell, a Russian news site critical of the government, likened Russia's apparent secrecy around Monday's fire to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

The site wrote, according to Reuters: "Nearly a day without information about the accident in a nuclear facility and the need to look out for Norwegian statements about the level of radiation should have given a shudder to those who remember the Chernobyl nuclear power station."

The defense ministry on Tuesday described the submarine vessel as one "designed to study the bottom space and the bottom of the ocean in the interests of the Russian Navy," according to a statement carried by the Interfax news agency.

The ministry said the fire happened during bathymetric surveys, which measure the depth of the sea bed.
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