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Divers reach front cabin

Mumbai, Aug. 18: Navy divers have finally prised open the jammed escape hatch at the fore-end of the INS Sindhurakshak where Tuesday’s midnight explosions went off, ripping apart the stealth boat that sank with all 18 sailors on board.

The access to the forward compartment, where explosives and armaments are stored, came after the divers battled for nearly three hours since noon today in poor visibility.

“We couldn’t survey much because the visibility was very poor and a little after that high tide started coming in. We will continue our search tomorrow,” said a source in the Western Naval Command.

“It is here in the armament compartment that we will find most answers about the end of the INS Sindhurakshak and our men.”

There were no reports of any more bodies being found today. Late on Saturday, naval divers had found a sixth body — charred and disfigured — near the control room, below the vessel’s conning tower.

Representatives from a Norwegian and a Singaporean firm are helping the navy assess and decide options for salvaging the vessel.

“The Indian Navy does not have the necessary expertise to salvage a submarine in this condition. It is a niche skill available to only a few expert firms globally,” the source said.

The source added the divers were going “beyond the call of duty” to locate and extricate the bodies of their fellow sailors.

“There is a pall of doom here and talk of shifting the naval base from Mumbai to Karwar (Karnataka), something that everybody in the navy has stalled for years. The Mumbai naval dockyard is filled chock-a-block with vessels. It is because of this that the fire from the INS Sindhurakshak could spread to the INS Sindhuratna which was parked cheek by jowl.”

The proposal to shift the naval base from Mumbai to Karwar — mooted in the 80s — has been consistently stalled by navy officers who view Karwar as a “punishment posting” despite its massive infrastructure.

Medical teams have begun collecting blood samples of family members of the 18 sailors who were on board the INS Sindhurakshak when it went down.

Among the relatives, the parents of the submarine’s 35-year-old second-in-command, Lt Commander Nikhilesh Pal, have been brought to the Western Naval Command’s Navy Nagar cantonment from Malad in suburban Mumbai.

Pal, a divorcee, lived on the INS Hamla naval premises at Malad with his parents and sister. His mother refused to speak when The Telegraph approached her.

Since the families of all the missing sailors are not in Mumbai, the navy has set up a similar support cell at its Visakhapatnam base.