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Indian submarine explodes and sinks with 18 on board
Publication Date : 15-08-2013
A newly renovated Indian submarine with 18 sailors on board sank after explosions set off a fire in one of the worst accidents to hit the navy, which had just crossed a major milestone a day earlier with the launch of an indigenous aircraft carrier.
Hopes were fading for the survival of the three officers and 15 sailors on INS Sindhurakshak, a diesel-powered submarine, as navy divers were able to breach only the first hatch - which was fused with the hull due to the heat - 12 hours after the fire that started in the early hours of Tuesday.
The cause of the explosion was still unclear, but the navy ruled out sabotage.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who visited the Mumbai dockyard where the submarine was partially submerged, expressed condolences to the families of the sailors.
Navy chief D.K. Joshi said: "While we hope for the best, at the same time, we have to prepare for the worst."
The navy chief said a board of inquiry has been set up to investigate the explosions on the submarine, which returned in April from Russia after a two-year refit costing US$80 million.
Commissioned in 1997, the Sindhurakshak had been newly fitted with anti-ship and land attack cruise missile systems.
This is the second fire on the Sindhurakshak, after one in February 2010 resulted in the death of a 24-year-old sailor.
In 1991, the navy's INS Andaman developed a leak and sank in the Bay of Bengal with 15 sailors on board.
"Submarine accidents have always been catastrophic," Admiral Joshi said yesterday.
Anything ranging from fuel, oxygen bottles or battery pads that may exude hydrogen could have caused the explosion, he added.
The accident cut short celebrations over the launch of INS Vikrant - a 37,500-tonne aircraft carrier likely to be deployed in 2018 - which had catapulted India into a select group of nations capable of building such a carrier.
Days before, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had congratulated the navy for activating the nuclear reactor in the country's first indigenously built nuclear submarine, which is to be deployed in two years.
While the navy chief said he was optimistic that the submarine could be salvaged, experts said the incident was a major setback for the Indian Navy.
"We require at least 30 submarines and we have 14," said retired naval officer P.K. Ghosh, a senior fellow at Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation.
While India has been bulking up its naval capabilities to rival China's, this has slowed over the last couple of years because of corruption scandals in procurement.
Meanwhile, the construction of new submarines is behind deadline due to technical and financial issues. A government report five years ago said half of India's submarine fleet was in disrepair, with only 48 per cent of the fleet deployable in the event of an attack.