INS Sindhuratna, an ageing Kilo class submarine, has been one of the most active conventional diesel-electric vessel of the fleet over the last 25 years of its service and is almost at the end of its 30-year service life. The 3,000-tonne vessel, which came from the erstwhile Soviet stable, had been inducted into the Navy in December 1988 and it had gone through a midlife upgrade between 2001-03 at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Russia.
In December 2013, the sub had completed a six-month short refit programme at the Mumbai naval dockyard and had gone through a successful habour inspection by the staff members under the Commodore Commanding Submarine-West (COMCOS-W) based in Mumbai.
The vessel was carrying about 60 of its crew and another 15 members of the COMCOS-W staff members for sea tests of its systems onboard and standard operating procedures. It had sailed out on Tuesday and at 6 am on Wednesday, the crew reported smoke in one of the compartments of the six-compartment vessel.
The fire extinguishers in that compartment had automatically become operational, spewing out a poisonous Freon gas, which is said to have caused the asphyxiation of the personnel onboard, navy officers said. Fortunately, the vessel was not carrying any weapon on board, they added.
“While at sea in the early hours of Wednesday, smoke was reported in the sailors’ accommodation, in compartment number three and it was brought under control by the submarine’s crew. In the process of controlling the smoke/fire, seven crew members inhaled the smoke leaving them feeling uneasy,” a navy spokesperson said from Mumbai’s Western Naval Command headquarters. However, the vessel surfaced in ‘a few seconds’ and the process for ventilating the smoke out began.
The seven ill sailors, who had not used a breathing apparatus during the effort to control the fire and smoke were evacuated by a Sea King helicopter to naval hospital INSH Asvini, where they were treated upon and were reported stable. Simultaneously, the navy crew onboard the vessel began a search for the two missing officers. But they were yet to be found.
When last reports came in, the vessel was functional on its own power and was still at sea. It was expected to return to Mumbai on Thursday.
Not First Mishap of the Vessel
This is not the first incident involving Sindhuratna, which was the fifth of the 10 Kilo-class submarines that India inducted from the Soviet Union, Sindhuratna had a ‘minor
collision’ with a berthed INS Sindhukesri, another of the Kilo-class vessels, while being towed by a tug at the Mumbai naval dockyard.