Top Navy Officers' Haul-up Triggers 'Zero Error' Syndrome
Three senior officers, considered most efficient, have been hauled up by the Navy top brass to send across a stern message to rank and file to pull up their socks, but the action has left a negative effect with ‘zero error’ syndrome setting in among warship commanders.
Western Fleet commander Rear Admiral Anil Chawla, who previously commanded INS Viraat aircraft carrier, was marched up before Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Sekhar Sinha recently and was pulled up for lapses.
This reprimand of a senior officer was attributed to a series of accidents reported in Mumbai involving warships, including a frigate under his command ramming into a fishing vessel and another reporting a damaged Sonar (Sound Navigation and Ranging) system.
The captains of the two warships -- INS Talwar’s Gopal Suri and INS Betwa’s Deepak Bisht -- have already lost their command prematurely as punishment after the accidents and are now on staff posting in the Western Naval Command headquarters in Mumbai.
Rear Admiral Chawla had taken over the Western Fleet’s command in mid-2013, after serving in the Navy headquarters in Delhi as perspective planning nodal officer, whose job is to crystal gaze the future of the Navy and getting approvals for the force’s expansion plans.
In what is considered an extreme punishment at his level of hierarchy in the Navy, Chawla was marched up before Sinha when the latter expressed his ‘displeasure’.
A Navy source said the ‘march up’ was not connected to the recent accidents involving some warships, but was to send across ‘a larger message’ to sailors and officers that even the best could be hauled up for no fault of his. Talwar had on December 23 night rammed into an unlit fishing boat in the Arabian Sea off Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, sinking the boat and throwing out the 27 fishermen, who were sleeping after fishing, into the waters. The fishermen were rescued by the warship crew and later taken ashore.
Betwa, which returned to the Mumbai dockyard on January 4, had reported a damaged Sonar, after it noticed that the data from the system was faulty due to salt water ingress. A diver, after inspecting Sonar which is the lowest part of the warship hull, identified a vertical fracture on its dome. “A vertical fracture only indicates that some floating object could have hit the equipment and that the warship had not run aground. After a repair, Betwa is back sailing on an operational deployment,” the source said.
Both Suri and Bisht are submariners and have each commanded at least three submarines before they were accepted into the elite cadre of officers, who get to command capital assets such as surface warships. India currently has only 21 such warships and only the best among the executive officers get to command these. The Navy has been under tremendous pressure due to negative publicity it has been garnering following the August 14, 2013 INS Sindhurakshak explosions that claimed lives of 18 naval personnel, who were on board the ill-fated submarine in Mumbai naval dockyard that night.
Sources said the punishment meted out to the three highly-regarded senior officers was a means to ‘ease the pressure’. Navy officers indicated that this ‘easing of pressure’ was only causing ‘zero error syndrome’ to set in among warship commanders, who would now hesitate to take risks during operations and ‘play safe’ not to earn the displeasure of the top brass.