A mid-level naval officer was killed and two civilian employees of the Defence shipyard Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL) suffered asphyxiation due to a gas leak in a firefighting unit on board an under-construction warship at the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) on Friday, leading to major panic in South Block in Delhi over its political fallout.
The accident in the defence shipyard comes a day after Finance Minister P Chidambaram had told a students meet that the Defence Ministry was not spending its budgetary allocation “wisely” and that the military assets suffered from lack of proper maintenance, all in the backdrop of last week’s gas leak on Navy submarine INS Sindhuratna.
The mishap on board the yet-to-be commissioned first of the Kolkata-class Destroyer has prompted the opposition to seek Defence Minister's resignation on moral grounds.
"This is the 11th serious accident in past 11 months. This is the result of complete neglect of the Navy by the Congress-led UPA government. Defence Minister Antony must take the responsibility and resign forthwith,"
Antony had exactly a week ago “immediately accepted” the resignation of then Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi, who quit “owning moral responsibility” for the Sindhuratna mishap and the three earlier accidents.
MDL is under the direct control of the Defence Ministry’s Department of Defence Production, which is headed by Secretary G C Pati, who in turn reports directly to Antony. The Navy said the Yard-701 warship was still MDL’s baby and that its inspection staffers were on board the warship during trials.
The deceased naval officer, identified as Commander Kuntal Wadhwa, was testing on-board systems of the 7,000-tonne warship ahead of its acceptance trials when he and the other two MDL employees realised the leak of carbon dioxide from the firefighting system. As they rushed out of the engine room, where they were testing the on-board machinery, Wadhwa “tripped and fell on the floor” and in that process inhaled more of the poisonous carbon dioxide and collapsed, MDL spokesperson Parvez N Panthaky said over phone from Mumbai.
“Unfortunately, the naval officer succumbed. But the two MDL employees were attended to at the hospital to which they were rushed and were later discharged,” he said.
The incident occurred around 11 am on board the warship, Yard-701, which was to be commissioned into the Indian Navy in about a month’s time as INS Kolkata, a stealth destroyer, Panthaky said.