Mumbai: In a major setback to the Indian Navy, a submarine caught fire after a massive explosion and sank in the dockyard here early on Wednesday, with the 18 personnel, including three officers, on board feared dead.
The explosion resulted in a major fire breaking out on board INS Sindhurakshak, a Russian-made Kilo class submarine of the Indian Navy, shortly after midnight, they said. The fate of 18 persons on board the 2,300 tonne submarine, powered by a combination of diesel generators and electric batteries, is being ascertained, a defence spokesperson said.
Navy fears that all 18 officials on board INS Sindhurakshak may have been perished, sources said.
Confirming loss of lives in the mishap, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said, "It is the greatest tragedy of recent times, I feel sad about Navy personnel who have lost their lives."
Antony briefed PM Manmohan Singh on the submarine mishap and will visit the accident site in Mumbai.
The rescue personnel were unable to open hatches to enter the damaged submarine, sources added. Internal explosion inside the submarine is the reason behind explosion, said earlier reports.
"We will not give up until we get to them," navy spokesman P.V.S. Satish had said earlier.
The Navy has ordered a board of inquiry to probe the explosion and subsequent fire in the submarine, the spokesperson said. Fire tenders from the Naval dockyard as well as the Mumbai Fire Brigade were immediately pressed into action, he said. However, due to the explosion, the submarine has submerged at the dock with only a portion visible above the surface, a defence statement said.
TV footage of the incident showed a huge ball of fire triggered by the explosion lighting up the night sky in Colaba area where the Navy dockyard is located. The statement said efforts are on to ascertain the safety of the personnel and salvage the submarine.
Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi is also on his way to Mumbai.
A fire brigade official said that around 3am, the blaze had been brought under control and prevented from spreading to other vessels docked in the vicinity.
The submarine had returned after a major upgrade programme in Russia 3-4 months ago and was capable of carrying a potent weapons package including the anti-ship 'Club' missiles.
INS Sindhurakshak was not on active duty at the time of the accident, Navy sources said. The incident has come at a time when the Navy is faced with a depleting submarine fleet.
Commodore (retd) Uday Bhaskar, a former IDSA director, said since the rate of induction of new platforms has not kept up with the kind of wear and tear that a submarine would undertake, the net result is that the Navy's submarine fleet is depleting and the operation load is increasing.
"The fact that the Sindhurakshak (incident) has happened, it is going to have its own adverse impact," he said.
The explosion and fire comes a day ahead of India's Independence day. Sources said another submarine, INS Sindhugosh (not Sindhuratna as reported earlier), was towed away after some time in order to avoid more fire and damage. Navy sources said there has been no damage to INS Sindhughosh after explosion on INS Sindhurakshak.
The 16-year-old INS Sindhurakshak had returned after a major upgrade programme in Russia 3-4 months ago and is armed with a potent weapons package including the anti-ship Club missiles.
A file photo of the submarine - via Wikimedia Commons
In 2010, a fire mishap took place on the INS Sindhurakshak leaving a sailor dead and two others injured. That mishap was caused by an explosion in its battery compartment. India had bought the 2300-tonne submarine from Russia as part of an early 1980s deal and commissioned it in 1997.
It is the ninth of the 10 Sindhugosh class diesel-electric powered vessel that the Navy has in its 16-vessel submarine fleet. In the last few years, there have been several mishaps involving naval vessels. In 2008, another vessel of the Kilo class, INS Sindhugosh, collided with a merchant vessel off Mumbai while participating in a naval exercise.
In 2011, a surface warship INS Vindhyagiri caught fire when it collided with a merchant vessel near the Mumbai harbour while returning from a picnic with families of group of officers deployed on board. On its way back, it hit another ship leaving the harbour. Nobody was injured but the warship was virtually ruined.
Next: INS Sindhurakshak fully operational after refit: Russia