| ABOARD THE METROPOLIA PLATFORM, Russia
ABOARD THE METROPOLIA PLATFORM, Russia Russian
explorers plunged to the bed of the world's deepest lake on
Tuesday in a show of Moscow's resurgent scientific ambitions,
but had to withdraw a claim to have set a new record.
The mission to the depths of Siberia's Lake Baikal was led
by Artur Chilingarov, a scientist and Kremlin-backed member of
parliament who was part of an earlier mission to the North Pole
that sparked criticism in the West.
The mission's twin submersibles, used last year to plant a
Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole, descended
1,580 metres (5,180 feet) to the lake bed. This was well short
of their 1,680 metre target, which would have set a world
record for freshwater submersion.
As the mission unfolded live on state television, officials
were quick to declare it the world's deepest dive. "This is a
world record," Interfax news agency quoted one of the
expedition's organisers as saying.
The scientists believed they had discovered a point in the
lake deeper than the one hitherto considered its bottom, at
1,637 metres down, which had already been visited by another
Russian submersible several years earlier.
But when the six crew returned hours later, organisers said
they had reached the lake floor at a depth of only 1,580
"There was no record. But we'll continue exploration," said
Chilingarov, who oversaw the operation from a mission-control
point on the Metropolia Platform floating on the lake.
Tucked away in the remote hills of south-east Siberia where
Russia borders China and Mongolia, Baikal, the world's deepest
and oldest lake, is revered in Russia as a national treasure.
Formed 25 million years ago and home to 20 percent of the
world's unfrozen freshwater, it also hosts some of the world's
rarest species of fish and other aquatic life, and lies on
significant mineral resources.
The expedition collected samples from the seabed and,
echoing the mission to the North Pole, placed a pyramid adorned
with the Russian tricolour on the lake bed.
"The bottom of the lake was very flat," crew member
Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, also head of the nearby Russian region
of Buryatia, said in televised remarks. "Visibility was
excellent when we illuminated it."
Russia used the mission to the North Pole to stake a
symbolic claim to the energy riches of the region, believed to
hold vast resources of oil and natural gas. Canada at the time
accused Russia of behaving like a 15th-century explorer.
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Kevin Liffey)