A diesel-powered Indian submarine exploded and sank yesterday in a Mumbai dock, killing an unknown number of the 18 crewmen on board and setting back the Indian navy’s ambitious modernization drive.
Indian navy divers entered the stricken submarine, but have detected no signs of life from the 18 crewmen on board, the navy said.
When asked if there had been any communication with survivors, chief of naval staff D.K. Joshi told a press conference: “Of course not. I would have said so if we had.”
“There is a possibility of an air pocket. Whilst the indicators are negative, one cannot lose hope,” he added.
The fully-armed INS Sindhurakshak, returned by Russia earlier this year after a major refit, is nose-down in the water, with just a small part visible above the surface, the navy said.
The disaster is thought to be the worst for the Indian navy since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine in 1971 and Indian Minister of Defense A.K. Antony described the explosion as the “greatest tragedy in recent time.”
“I feel sad about those navy personnel who have lost their lives in service of the country,” Antony told reporters in New Delhi, without saying how many had died.
The blast came days after New Delhi trumpeted the launch of its first domestically produced aircraft carrier and the start of sea trials for its first locally made nuclear submarine.
The world’s biggest democracy has been expanding its armed forces rapidly to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era weaponry and react to what is perceived as a growing threat from regional rival China.
Grainy amateur video footage taken by a witness showed a fireball in the forward section of the Russian-made INS Sindhurakshak, where torpedoes and missiles are stored along with battery units.
“There were two to three explosions and the night sky lit up briefly,” said eyewitness Dharmendra Jaiswal, who works at a public toilet near the dockyard and was sleeping there overnight.
“There was a lot of smoke and I thought it was some major repair work,” he told reporters near the scene of the disaster on the southern tip of the Mumbai Peninsula.
P.S. Rahangdale, an off-duty firefighter who rushed to the scene, told a local television channel that the INS Sindhurakshak “was totally on fire” and was berthed next to another submarine.
“Because of timely intervention of my team and resources and [the] navy’s resources, we could save that second submarine,” he said.
The navy said that the cause of the explosion was not known and divers were working to enter the stricken hull of the vessel, which is resting on its nose on the seabed 8m down.