Naval disaster: 18 die as submarine explodes in Mumbai; Sabotage not ruled out

Submarine Mumbai dockyard_0_0.jpg

Mumbai/Visakhapatnam: Three explosions and an ensuing fire shortly after midnight on Thursday on INS Sindhurakshak, the Navy’s frontline Russian-origin conventional diesel-electric submarine, submerged the vessel where it was docked in the Western Naval Command in Mumbai. Eighteen personnel on board the submarine at the time of the mishap are feared dead.
The accident comes as a huge blow to the Navy as it has been grappling with a depleting submarine fleet.
Navy officials said there were three explosions, one small followed by two large, on Sindhurakshak within a few minutes of each other. The impact of the explosions was such that another submarine, Sindhuratna, which was berthed nearby also caught fire.
Among the 18 personnel on board, two, Dasara Prasad, 35, and T. Rajesh, 29, were from Visakhapatnam.
Sabotage not ruled out: Navy chief
Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi, said on Wednesday that there was no indication of sabotage yet in the fire on INS Sindhurakshak. “Sabotage isn’t ruled out, though prima facie it doesn’t (look likely). There are ships of many nationalities at the harbour, but the blast occurred on board, t-at goes against the sabotage theory,” he said.
Hope fades as time runs out
The Navy fears the worst for the 18 of its men trapped inside the submarine.
However, the divers have not given up their efforts since Tuesday night to rescue the sailors. The task has, however, been hampered as the main hatch on the conning tower of the vessel has been fused together by the impact of the fire.
Navy chief Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi said that all the divers from the Navy have been roped in for the rescue operation.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Navy Chief D.K. Joshi visiting the naval dockyard following the INS Sindhurakshak submarine mishap, in Mumbai on Wednesday - PTI 
“The ship has remained submerged for more than 12 hours. The divers have opened the main hatch of the ship, which at present is the only way to gain access in the ship. Their mission is to create two or three watertight compartments to start the dewatering process. No visibility, muddy water, intensity of fire is making the operation very difficult. They can only crawl horizontally as there are no doors. After pumping out the water, the submarine will resurface. It is a detailed deliberate process so time cannot be estimated. All the manpower is being used,” he said.
“Forensic evidence will then be gathered to find out the cause of the first explosion. The three officers who got saved are in a state of shock but their and the statements of the fire-fighting staff will be recorded to find out what they saw initially,” Admiral Joshi added.
The Naval chief said that it is difficult as of now to say when the submarine could be salvaged and whether it could be used again.
It has been almost 18 hours since the incident and there have been no signs from within the submarine that the sailors were alive. “While we can hope for the best, we have to prepare for the worst,” the Navy chief said.
“It was not envisaged that a submarine would have such a catastrophe at the harbour. It is a dent in our capability, Admiral Joshi said.
The Navy chief said that were was a lot of ordinance and other material on the ship that could have triggered the explosions. “Apart from the explosives, there was fuel, oxygen and hydrogen bottles on the ship. The two major safety monitoring units — both manual and automatic — have malfunctioned and it is a big dent for the Navy. The BOI will consist of inspectoratelevel members and a submarine commando,“ he said.
Allaying fears of the missiles and other explosives on board the submarine,he said, “As per conventional wisdom, after the vessel is submerged for so long it would have (been) rendered safe,” he said.
Kalam took sortie on the submarine
Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam created a history by taking a sortie in INS Sindhurakshak off the Visakhapatnam coast in February 2006. He was the first Indian head of the state to sail in a submarine.
He went on a sortie in INS Sindhurakshak in the Bay of Bengal for a few hours after presenting the President’s colour to the Eastern Fleet as part of President’s Fleet Review (PFR). The PFR is held once in a President’s tenure.
Next: DC editorial - A setback to Navy; let's find out why

A setback to Navy; let's find out why

The tragic explosion on the INS Sindhurakshak is a major blow to the Indian Navy's underwater force. It is now up to the board of inquiry to find out why the submarine disaster took place. The fact remains, however, that our submarine fleet is in an already precarious state.
With the old Russian (Soviet) Kilo class submarines like Sindhurakshak, and the German HDW class vessels to be phased out soon, our operational submarine strength -that may possibly be reduced by half from the current 14 -may soon not be much more than Pakistan's whereas China would probably have more than 50.
It is important to know what caused the explosion as the Navy has been involved in far too many incidents in the recent past.
Navigational care Carelessness like running into ships near ports has cost us even more than accidents or lapses in standard operat ing procedures, as suspected in the case of the Sindhurakshak lessness like running into ships near ports has cost us even more than accidents or pos sible lapses in standard operating proce dures, as suspected in the case of the Sindhurakshak, that had caught fire three years ago and was expensively refitted in Russia only a few months back.
At least two collisions during navigation involving the submarine INS Sindhugosh and warship INS Vindhyagiri point to procedural lapses which is something the Navy cannot afford.
Considering the geopolitics of the region and the uncertain security environment we live in, nothing can be ruled out, including sabotage. Henry Kissinger once famously said that “India is in the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world.“ The point he made is stressed each time suspicions arise over such incidents involving the armed forces. The common guess is that hydrogen levels could have been dangerously high during a battery change since such a mishap may have taken place before.
The inquiry should help pinpoint the cause and help clear any misgivings over how secure our military establishments are.
Reports suggest that never before had our Navy been placed in such a vulnerable position. The human tragedy of the loss of lives -possibly as many as 15 seamen and three officers, including an XO - is a greater loss.
The capability of our armed forces is being severely tested by recent events. To lose men in what may be avoidable tragedies like the explosion on board the INS Sindhurakshak is what makes the whole thing much more poignant. Our hearts go out to the families of the brave sailors who died in the tragedy.


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