VISAKHAPATNAM: Search for the four Navy personnel, including an officer, who went missing after a torpedo recovery vessel (TRV A-72) of the Indian Navy sank off the Visakhapatnam coast on Thursday night, continued in the Bay of Bengal on Friday. As their whereabouts were not known even 34 hours after the mishap, officials fear they might have drowned.
Senior Naval officials did not rule out the possibility of ‘poor maintenance’ of the ship for the mishap. “Though it is too early to draw any conclusion, preliminary evidence points out that the incident might have occurred due to poor maintenance. This particular ship was built by Goa Shipyard Ltd in 1983 and has served the Navy for the last 31 years, calling for better attention,” said a senior Navy officer. Though TRVs of much older age continue to serve the Navy, sources pointed out that the average age of vessels serving the Navy is around 25 years.
Navy chief Admiral RK Dhowan, who is on a visit to Seychelles till November 9, has cut short his visit and is expected to arrive in Visakhapatnam on Sunday. Seven ships of the Eastern fleet, including those with side scanning and bottom profiling abilities, aircraft, including Dorniers, Boeing P81, Sea King 42C with night vision facilities, and Chetak helicopters have been deployed for the search operation which continued since Thursday night to trace the missing personnel.
Naval sources said as per preliminary investigations, the TRV sank due to ingress of seawater into the steering gear compartment and subsequent rooms.
Interestingly, official sources confirmed that seven scientists from Navy’s NSTL laboratory and members of Naval armaments inspection team were also on board when the mishap occurred. All of them were rescued.
Sources said a Board of Inquiry ordered by the Navy would probe the lapses pertaining to the vessel maintenance, presence of more personnel than permitted, human error and other factors that could have led to the mishap.
The Malkapuram police registered a case in connection with the death of the sailor. The deceased has been identified as James Jacob (30) from Kerala. The Naval authorities, however, remained tight-lipped on providing information on the incident.
The vessel sank around 8 pm on Thursday while on a routine mission to recover practice torpedoes fired by the fleet ships.
The auxiliary ship sank to a depth of 370 metres at 65 km south of Visakhapatnam.