Indian Navy submarine the INS Sindhuratna suffered a fire mishap off the country’s west coast during a routine training and inspection run in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The modernized Russian Sindhughosh-class diesel submarine is reported to have suffered a fire in its forward battery compartment. Two officers have been reported missing in the incident while seven sailors have been injured. Five sailors were airlifted to a hospital after inhaling the poisonous Freon gas used in the submarine’s fire suppression system.
The accident took place a little over thirty miles off the coast of Mumbai where India’s Western Naval Command is headquartered. The submarine is said to have surfaced and was returning to its dock when smoke from the fire was detected on board. The cause of the fire is said to have been an electrical short-circuit in the forward battery compartment. The vessel was not carrying any weapons or ammunition when the incident occurred. Two officers—a deputy electrical officer at the rank of a lieutenant commander and a watch officer at the rank of lieutenant are still missing.
The Indian Navy’s Commodore Commanding Submarines (COMCOS-West) was aboard the 3076-ton INS Sindhuratna overseeing the trials of the refitted submarine. The Sindhughosh-class submarine is a variant of the Russian Kilo-class submarine refitted in 2003 as part of a defense project between Russia’s defense exports group Rosvooruzhenie and the Indian Navy. So far, three of these submarines that were refitted at the Zvezdochka shipyard in the Russian city of Severodvinsk have been involved in fire accidents.
The Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi resigned from command following the fire mishap suffered by the Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhuratna during its training and trial exercise, after taking responsibility for the incident. The current Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan has taken over as interim commander and is expected to issue a statement. The Indian Navy’s aging refitted fleet has seen ten accidents including three submarine accidents in a span of just the last three months. The Indian submarine fleet has dwindled to nine active vessels after a similar fire mishap caused the INS Sindhurakshak, another Sindhughosh-class submarine to explode and sink of the Mumbai coast in August last year, claiming the lives of 18 crewmen. The vessel had also suffered fire damage from that incident.
This incident is almost certain to spark off a furious debate about the safety of the Indian submarine fleet. Before Wednesday’s accident, India’s active submarine fleet consisted of 15 submarines including one 8010-ton nuclear-powered Akula class submarine, ten 3,000-ton Sindhughosh-class diesel submarines and four 1700-ton Shishukumar-class diesel-electric submarines. In recent years, the defense ministry is reported to have issued several notices to former naval chief D.K. Joshi about the optimal operation of the country’s naval assets in the wake of the accidents. Earlier in January, the Indian Navy warship INS Airavat ran aground off India’s east coast while returning to port at Vizag, the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command prompting the navy to strip the ship’s Captain JPS Virk of his command. The Indian Navy is expected to set up a Board of Inquiry to investigate the fire mishap suffered by the submarine INS Sindhuratna while on a training exercise. No matter what the results of the investigation, there remains no doubt that the Indian Navy needs to revamp its submarine fleet.
By Grace Stephen