In a double whammy for the Indian Navy on Wednesday, its chief Admiral D K Joshi resigned “taking moral responsibility” within hours of a Russian-origin submarine reporting a suspected fire and smoke in which two officers were feared dead and seven sailors suffered asphyxiation, off the Mumbai coast.
The government quickly accepted Joshi’s resignation and announced that vice chief Vice Admiral R K Dhowan would officiate as chief till a regular Admiral is appointed to the top naval post. It was not clear if Defence Minister A K Antony had asked Joshi to quit, just 18 months before he was to retire in August 2015.
Joshi’s resignation came hours after INS Sindhuratna, a 25-year-old Russian-origin Kilo class attack submarine, reported smoke on board due to a suspected fire, when it was sailing about 40 nautical miles off Mumbai.
A string of Navy accidents occurred within the past six months under the watch of Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, chief of the Western Naval Command in Mumbai, but he has so far not chosen to put in his papers. Sinha was the senior-most officer in the Navy hierarchy after Joshi and could be appointed Navy chief if the seniority principle is strictly followed, even though the Sindhuratna mishap was reported under his watch.
INS Sindhuratna had in the early part of the last decade gone through an extensive upgrade, and had been put through a six-month refit programme that ended in December 2013. After a successful harbour-based inspection of all of its systems, it had been taken out to the sea for trials only on Tuesday ahead of becoming fully operational.
The smoke was reported at 6 am in one of the six chambers of the submarine, where sailors have their accommodation, following which seven sailors were evacuated to naval hospital INS Asvini in Mumbai, where their condition is now reported to be stable. However, after ventilating the smoke, the Navy has now launched a cabin-wise search for the two missing crew — Lt Commander Kapish Muwal (electrical officer) and Lt Manoranjan Kumar (on watch duty). The vessel would return to Mumbai on Thursday, sources said. This was the 12th accident, both minor and major, in the last six months since the August 14 sinking of another Kilo class submarine INS Sindhurakshak after a series of explosions ripped through its hull when it was docked in Mumbai, resulting in the death of 18 personnel on board. [Read on Navy accidents since August 2013]
The Navy has been fighting a perception battle in the last six months since the Sindhurakshak mishap and has had to sack three warship captains — INS Talwar’s Gopal Suri, INS Betwa’s Deepak Bisht and INA Airavat’s JPS Virk — during this period.
“Taking moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents which have taken place during the past few months, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D K Joshi today (Wednesday) resigned from the post of CNS (Chief of Naval Staff),” said a Defence Ministry spokesperson. “The government has accepted the resignation of Admiral Joshi with immediate effect,” he said, adding “Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral R K Dhowan will discharge duties of officiating CNS, pending appointment of regular CNS”.
Joshi’s resignation has raised a lot of eyebrows, primarily due to the manner in which it was quickly accepted by the government. The resignation has also upset the likely succession line of top officers to the chief’s post.
For, accidents have been reported in the Navy in the past too, with it losing INS Andaman, a Soviet-built Petya class patrol vessel in August 1990, when it sank off Visakhapatnam during a regular maritime anti-submarine warfare exercise. Andaman warship’s captain had reported a leak in the hull, but the exercise continued, resulting in the warship sinking. Admiral J P Nadkarni was the Navy chief then, but he did not resign, nor did the Eastern Naval Command chief of that time, and then Prime Minister V P Singh, who was holding charge of the Defence portfolio also.
In 2002, two IL-38 long-range patrol planes of the Navy collided midair killing 17 crew members on board. However, neither did then Navy chief Admiral Madhavendra Singh resign nor did then Defence Minister George Fernandes.
Read Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi profile here