New Delhi, Aug. 19: Explosions in the ordnance store and a fire sank the Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak in Mumbai last week, defence minister A.K. Antony told Parliament on Monday.
The navy has also ordered extensive checks on weapons-related safety systems and audit of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on all operational submarines.
“Preliminary investigations indicate that the explosion was due to the possible ignition of armament. The cause of ignition is, however, yet to be established,” the defence minister said.
“Initial assessments indicate that an internal explosion occurred in the forward compartment of the submarine, where ordnance was stored, resulting in further near-simultaneous explosions and major fire onboard INS Sindhurakshak.”
The submarine was “observed to be slowly submerging due to damage sustained during the fire and explosions onboard”, Antony said. There was also a minor fire in the INS Sindhughosh, a submarine berthed alongside the Sindhurakshak, that was put out.
The Sindhughosh and other ships in the naval dockyard were moved away from the Sindhurakshak to safe locations.
Antony said the three officers and 15 sailors on duty in the Sindhurakshak could not be evacuated “as the explosion and resultant damage were near instantaneous”.
“Though full details are yet to emerge, the rapidity and intensity of the explosion and the resultant damage sustained by the submarine indicate that the personnel would not have survived,” he said.
He said the navy’s divers have so far been able to access only parts of the submarine because of heavy damage and flooding of compartments, with obstructions from debris and structural distortions. Efforts were on to pump out the water but “there has been no discernible change in the water level inside the submarine, indicating likelihood of ingress of water through openings due to structural damage”.
Even after pumping air in high pressure, the water level has not reduced significantly. The minister said this indicates “breach of watertight integrity in the forward portion of the submarine hull”. The front portion of the submarine was practically ripped apart.
Antony said the government has approached “globally renowned professional salvage agencies”. Russia, where the submarine was made and refitted, has also offered assistance.