In a major blow to the Indian Navy, a recently refurbished submarine was put out of action at least for some time after it sank following an explosion and fire. INS Sindhurakshak along with 18 crew has sank in the shallow waters of its berthing at the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. The incident happened at 10 minutes to midnight on Tuesday and the operations to douse the fire took another two hours by the fire brigade of Naval Dockyard and Mumbai Fire Brigade.
Though there has been no communication from the 18 crew of INS Sindhurakshak, the Navy is keeping its fingers crossed and prepared to face the worst. As per Admiral D K Joshi, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) press address made at 4 pm in Mumbai, the naval divers had managed to open main hatch on the conning tower of the vessel. Though the submarine is merely three meters below the surface, the explosion and the ensuing fire had fused together the hatch on the conning tower which is the only point of access into the submarine. It took several hours for the divers to pry open the hatch and gain access. Admiral Joshi said that the divers would first create three or two water tight compartments. This would be followed by de-watering (removal of water) to make the boat buoyant and bring it to the surface.
“As per the preliminary information available there was first a primary explosion of smaller intensity followed by a bigger explosion in the bow region or the forward end of the vessel where the ordinance are stored,” said Admiral Joshi. He said that submarines including INS Sindurakshak are built with safety mechanisms to prevent the spread of fire. “It is obvious that safety mechanisms have not functioned,” said Admiral Joshi. He said that video clips showed the fire spread rapidly indicating the small window of time for any reaction for the crew.
Initially water from the sea entered through the bow end where the explosion had occurred and only the forward portion was submerged in the waters. Later due to steady water intake from the sea and from the fire tenders the entire submarine sank to the shallow depths with the conning tower visible beneath the surface.
Admiral Joshi said that names of the officers and sailors trapped inside the submarine would be released at an appropriate time. He ruled out the possibility of the present accident having any connection with the 2010 mishap that resulted from leaking battery. “The vessel was thoroughly refurbished and since then it has done 1000 hours of dive,” he said. He also ruled out the possibility of that the leaking batteries would have again be the cause of the mishap. “The batteries were completely charged three days ago at the harbour. Thus primarily hydrogen leakage from the batteries would not be the cause,” said Admiral Joshi.
As of now there were no indication of sabotage. “The indicators does not support the theory of sabotage,” said Admiral Joshi. He also added that the ordinance on board the submarine would pose any threat to the dockyard. “As per conventional wisdom after the vessel is submerged for so long it (ordinance such as missiles, torpedo, etc) would have rendered safe,” said Admiral Joshi. He also said that there was no damage to any of the vessels in the immediate vicinity.
Three crew who were outside including the quartermaster were injured and rushed to the INS Ashwini, the naval hospital at Colaba in Mumbai. Admiral Joshi said that they were in state of shock to reveal anything.
According to naval sources, at berthing particular at night when the crew is at its minimum all the hatches are kept open which may have caused the impact of the explosion and the fire to spread throughout the submarine.
11:50 pm Tuesday : first explosion of smaller intensity followed by larger explosion in the bow end where the oridnance are stored. This is followed by a fire.
12:00 am Wednesday : The fire was so intense that the Naval Dockyard Fire Brigade was not able to approach close to the blazing and was shooting water from a distance.
12:15 am : The Mumbai fire Brigade too respond to the mishap. However the Mumbai Fire Brigade are kept on stand-by at the Naval Dockyard gates are later let in to douse the fire.
3 am – 4 am : The fire is brought under control. But the vessel sinks to the shallow depths in its place of berth
By 4 pm : The navy divers are able to open the main hatch on the conning towers which got fused due to the intense heat from the fire. Attempt to make the vessel buoyant again.