In the wake of the latest incident involving yet another kilo class submarine, which has dealt a severe blow to the Navy, questions have been raised on the safety of its Submarine Fleet. And experts pointed fingers at the “procedural delays” and “bureaucratic hurdles” that come in the way of the functioning of the armed forces.
Terming the INS Sindhuratna incident an “error in judgement”, Vice Admiral (retd) K N Sushil, a veteran submariner, said many a time issues that could lead to mishaps are not being discussed. “There are other issues which lead to such incidents. There’s an unreasonable delay of many years in dredging the approach to the Mumbai Naval yard,” he said.
“Sanction for dredging the channel to the Naval yard has not been cleared for years. It’s still pending for clearance due to the procedural delays from the MoD. These are issues that we don’t discuss, but that could lead to incidents,” he said in an apparent reference to a recent incident, in which another submarine INS Sindhughosh had a narrow escape in Mumbai while entering the harbour.”
“The harbour was not dredged; the current was strong,” he pointed out. According to Sushil, “There have been incidents of collision with fishing boats. In the last couple of years, there’s a twenty fold increase in the number of fishing boats. They have to follow certain procedures like flashing signals, having lights and so on. But how many of them do that? In the last few years, the density of fishing boats has increased. But are the officials concerned enforcing strict measures”?
“Immediately after each incident, an analysis is carried out. There’s a special cell at the Southern Naval Command, which goes into the incident, analyses it and comes out with the lessons. New lessons are learnt and taught. We talk about professional standards coming down, but we don’t discuss these crucial issues,” he said. Meanwhile, sources pointed fingers at “wrong procedures” being adopted or ‘taking them (the incidents) “too lightly” as the reasons behind the Sindhuratna incident.
“Fire broke out in the third compartment of the submarine. In these submarines there are halon-based chemical fire extinguishers, which are released either automatically or by manual operation immediately after the fire breaks out. Prolonged inhalation of the chemical could prove to be highly dangerous, Hence the crew have to wear masks. In this incident, they may not have followed the proper procedures,” they said. And it was pointed out that similar incidents had occurred earlier also.
Vice Admiral Raman P Suthan, former vice chief of the Indian Navy, too opined that the incident could have been due to shortcuts being employed in the procedures. “Incidents like fire on board do happen; these are occupational hazards; they are trained to tackle fire. And there are measures-- both manual and automatic-- that are to be followed,” he opined.