VLADIVOSTOK, April 26 (RIA Novosti) – A jury in Russia’s Far East acquitted two crew members of a Russian Navy nuclear attack submarine which suffered one of the worst accidents in the fleet in the past decade, at the end of a retrial on Friday.
Twenty men including seventeen civilian shipyard workers were suffocated in the accident in November 2008 aboard the Nerpa, an Akula II-class attack submarine, which was undergoing sea trials in the Sea of Japan, after its freon gas-based fire suppression system was accidently triggered. There were 208 people on board at the time, almost three times the boat’s normal complement, as the crew included shipyard staff as well as a navy crew.
The boat’s captain, Dmitry Lavrentyev, was charged with abuse of authority and an engineer, Dmitry Grobov, was accused of causing death by negligence. But the jury at a court in the city of Vladivostok unanimously cleared them of the charges, after a series of reports by investigative daily Novaya Gazeta and leaked evidence suggested the inquiry had not been properly conducted.
“The state prosecution had guessed there would an acquittal, because all the evidence we provided pointed to that. That’s why the jury made a unanimous decision, unlike the one at the previous trial,” Lavrentyev’s defense lawyer Sergei Bondar said on Friday.
Nuclear Submarine Nerpa
The prosecution pledged to appeal the verdict.
Friday’s ruling is the second acquittal for the two men. A jury previously acquitted both men on September 14, 2011, but the Supreme Court’s military board overturned the verdict in May 2012 and ordered the retrial.
The case has been highly controversial and divisive, with some senior naval officers and shipyard workers standing up for the crewmen and blaming the prosecution and defense industry. In May 2011, shipyard workers wrote an open letter defending the two crewmen and claiming the freon gas in the boat’s fire-suppression system was contaminated with poisonous chemicals.
Earlier this week, Russian law enforcement officials were forced to deny a video existed showing what happened on the boat in the last few minutes before the disaster. The denial came a day after Acting Pacific Fleet Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Andrei Voitovich claimed a video existed which it exonerated the crew, as it showed their reactions to the emergency situation on board. He claimed it had been hidden by investigators.