Lieutenant commander Nikhilesh Pal had served on board the submarine INS Sindhurakshak for over a year, before a blast gutted, then sunk it in its berth in the Mumbai dockyard in the early hours of August 14 with 17 of his colleagues on board. The perils of life at sea could rarely have been any closer to terra firma.
One of ten kilo-class submarines with the Indian navy, INS Sindhurakshak had been ‘extensively refurbished’ a year ago in Russia after an accident in 2010, and had returned to service recently. It went down days after India unveiled its indigenously built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant in Kochi.
Fire was first reported around midnight on August 14 and tenders were rushed to the scene. Eyewitnesses say two blasts followed soon after. Vikalp Mehta was near the Gateway of India. “Around 11.55 pm the whole sky lit up. We heard a huge blast soon after,” says the 28-year-old businessman. He shot videos and pictures of the fiery sky and uploaded them on a social networking site.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D.K. Joshi says the cause of the fire is unknown. All the hatches (entry points) had fused because of the heat generated by the explosions and rescue teams had been able to make only one opening till late Wednesday. Muddy water further hampered the operations. “Only duty watch was on board. We do not have an answer.... Several ingredients can cause a fire. There is explosive ammunition, oxygen bottles, battery packs, fuel on the submarine.... From indications, there was a primary explosion because of which the ordnance may have been ignited,” says Adm Joshi.
“Submarines are enclosed spaces, so smoke is a major challenge in fires. The crew is trained in fire-fighting, and are equipped as such. Automated systems come into place as soon as a fire starts. So it will be hard to tell at the moment,” says Commander (retd) Girish Konkar, an experienced submariner.
INS Sindhurakshak had recharged its batteries three days ago. “That rules out chances of hydrogen emission,” Adm Joshi says. The submarine (and crew) had done over 1,000 dive hours. The sub was its commanding officer’s fourth command. “From material and crew viewpoints we are unable to put a finger on what may have gone wrong,” the navy chief says.
The world over, submarine accidents have been catastrophic—the Russian submarine Kursk lost all 118 hands when it sank in the Barents Sea in 2000. A board of enquiry will inspect the minutest of details regarding INS Sindhurakshak. On the possibility of sabotage, Adm Joshi says it can’t be ruled out, “although indicators...do not support that theory”. In his interaction, the chief seemed to oscillate between hope and despair, saying miracles do happen, then stressing in the same breath the need to be prepared for the worst. Admitting a failure of systems, he says, “It is a dent on our capabilities.”
The probe report is expected in four weeks. Even as we wonder about the fate of the crew aboard INS Sindhurakshak, divers and the rescue team are trying to get to the bottom of the affair, hoping for survivors, and determined to force the warship to yield its tragic secret.
It is well known that defence purchases are full of shady transactions. Substandard erquipment sourced from the erstwhile Soviet Union is endangering the lives of our air men, soldiers and sailors.
4 D Bonita,
Like in the police force, there will be feminists clamouring for reservation in the army, knowing very well that they will be "protected" by their brothers, at the expense of danger to their own lives. Other than the "privilege", these women will not face danger, nor will the "chivalrous" society allow them to
Its the same thinking as managements in airlines disallowing airhosts - both examples detrimental to men. One for the dangers, faced as a gender, with no commensurate rewards, the other losing easy money for the absence of proper physique.
Btw, why are gender casteists not clamoring for sewer cleaning jobs - are they not equally jobs that have to be done to?
The naval establishment is right at the southern tip of a heavily populated city. Purely from a security point of view, the newly developed base at Karwar in Karnataka may be a better option.
I am yet to know of women clamouring to fight for our nation on the ground
I am yet to know of women clamouring to fight for our nation on the ground
Shows how little you know. There have been demands that women in the armed forces be permitted to serve in conbat units and these have been rejected.
The clever gender only insists on reservation in cushy jobs ( for eg nursing and Panchayatdars etc. )
I am yet to know of women clamouring to fight for our nation on the ground ( or clean its sewers ).
Till then, they will also have a valid "reason" for why THEY "think" males dont live long
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