Navy chief quits after submarine accident

February 27, 2014 - 1:23:25 am
NEW DELHI: India’s navy chief resigned yesterday, taking personal responsibility for a string of operational incidents, the latest of which saw smoke sweep a submarine with two officers still missing.

The government said in a statement that it had accepted the resignation of Chief of Naval Staff Admiral DK Joshi, who will be replaced on an acting basis by Vice-Chief of Naval Staff Vice-Admiral RK Dhowan.

A search continued for the two officers after smoke filled parts of a Russian-built submarine on a training exercise off the Mumbai coast in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The accident comes months after a dockside blast in Mumbai killed all 18 aboard another submarine last August, raising concerns over India’s ageing fleet and crew training.

There were 94 sailors on board the submarine when smoke was reported in the sailors’ accommodation early yesterday, about 50 nautical miles (80km) in the Arabian Sea. Seven sailors were airlifted by helicopter and shifted in an unconscious state to the naval hospital, INS Asvini, in south Mumbai. Their condition is reported to be stable.

Commander Rahul Sinha, a naval spokesman, said the source of the smoke had been removed, but declined to give details.

“When there is a fire in a submarine, the smoke is extremely toxic. There will be time before we enter the compartments completely,” Sinha said. The two officers could not be accounted for more than 12 hours after the incident.

Without apportioning direct blame, the government said that Joshi had taken “moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents which have taken place during the past few months”.

Defence analysts said submarine crew members in the Indian navy were not getting enough training on one type of vessel before moving to another, increasing risks that minor incidents could have fatal consequences.

“It’s a very ominous situation to be in,” said Uday Bhaskar, a fellow at Delhi’s National Maritime Foundation. “The Indian navy is going through a blighted phase.”

Handling a ship comes with experience and young officers weren’t getting the time needed on smaller vessels before moving onto bigger ones, said Bharat Karnad, a senior fellow of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research. “You’re beginning to see a trend and it’s not a happy situation,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. 

Preliminary reports suggest that the toxic smoke may have been caused either due to a fire or a leakage in one of the hydrogen batteries on the vessel.

Refitted and renovated in Mumbai in December 2013, the INS Sindhuratna was on a training exercise to familiarise the crew with operations of the Russian-built vessel. The vessel was underwater at the time of the incident and it was not fitted with weapons of any kind as it was on a training and familiarisation mission.