New Delhi – Twin blasts rocked the Indian Naval submarine INS Sindhurakshak after midnight on Aug 13-14 in its home port at the Naval dockyard in Mumbai and sailors onboard are feared dead, according to Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony, who did not provide further details. “It’s a loss to all of us. It’s a tragedy,” Antony told reporters in New Delhi before leaving for Mumbai to assess the situation.
Fifteen sailors and three officers were onboard the submarine when the blasts took place. According to informed sources, all onboard have perished and there is no expectation of any survivors. “It is some of the ordinance on board that seem to have exploded,” Admiral D.K. Joshi, Chief of Naval Staff, told the press. Another submarine, INS Sinduratna, which was berthed next to INS Sindhurakshak, also received minor damage. Speculation on the cause of the accident includes a possible fire in the battery compartment, hydrogen peroxide explosion or blast in a torpedo.
Though it may be too early to determine the exact cause of the blast, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) has been promptly convened by the Indian Navy to investigate. Whatever the findings of the BOI, the incident is suggestive of flaws in safety or training or the use of substandard materials
The unfortunate submarine suffered an accident in 2010 while it was docked at Visakhapatnam, due to a fire caused by an explosion in the battery compartment, in which one sailor was killed and two were injured. The submarine then underwent a two and a half year modernization refit in the Russian Zvezdochka shipyard at a cost of millions to the exchequer and had returned to the Indian Navy only a few months previously.
The submarine was commissioned on December 24 in 1997 by the Indian Navy and during the extensive refit and modernization in 2010, was fitted with modern sonar, communication system, electronic warfare system, and command and control equipment.
Losing a submarine for any Navy of the world is a big jolt, especially during peace time. Losing a ship or submarine during a war is part of the game, but losing one during peace time points to lacunae in the training of men or upkeep of the highly sophisticated equipment and weapons.
The INS Sindhurakshak was fitted with torpedoes and cruise missiles. Torpedoes are launched underwater to attack other submarines and ships, while missiles are used for long ranges against ships and land-based targets above water. This diesel-electric submarine had a range of 640 kilometers while cruising underwater and could operate from depths of 240 meters, though it descend to a maximum depth of 300 meters. It had a maximum speed of 31 kilometers per hour in submerged condition and had a tonnage of 3,000 plus tons when fully dived in water. The submarine could operate for 45 days at a stretch with a crew of 52 submariners onboard.
The Indian Navy’s fleet of 15 submarines is in urgent need of modernization and has suffered badly due to delays in government procurement that is mired with a large number of cases of corruption. However, India is not the only country that has lost a submarine during peace time; even the United States and Russia have suffered similar losses in the past.