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Dallas Company Hired to Retrieve Victims from Russian Nuclear Sub

By Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MOSCOW

Russia signed a high-risk, high-profile contract Monday with Halliburton Co., the Dallas-based energy services giant formerly headed by GOP vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney, to retrieve the bodies of sailors who died aboard the Kursk nuclear submarine when it sank under mysterious circumstances Aug. 12.

The agreement, which calls for Halliburton’s Norwegian affiliate to send a diving platform, diving bell and deep-sea divers to the accident site off the northern Russian port of Severomorsk this fall, improbably links two of the summer’s biggest news stories: the U.S. presidential election and the futile effort to rescue the submarine’s 118-man crew.

In Russia, the U.S. connection to Halliburton was given far less notice than the question of whether the salvage operation is possible or even necessary.

Russian navy officials have said that most crew members were probably killed instantly and that many of their bodies are likely to have been burned or destroyed. Moreover, even many of the crew’s family members have asked the government to leave the bodies buried at sea -- according to naval tradition -- and use the money to assist survivors.

“Let the submarine be their temporary tomb, as a time-honored sailors’ custom has it, until everything is ready to raise the whole ship together with the crew,” 78 relatives of the dead sailors said last week in a joint letter to President Vladimir V. Putin.

The government has been resolute about retrieving the bodies, perhaps because Putin personally made the promise as part of his damage-control efforts. The president was criticized at home and abroad for remaining on vacation during the bungled rescue operation in the Barents Sea.

Retired Rear Adm. Nikolai Mormul said the operation is likely to bring up no more than pieces of a few bodies.