Mumbai, Feb. 4: Friendly fire has singed the Western Naval Command headquarters in Mumbai.
On December 10, the fourth floor was badly damaged when an empty gun shell from a docked Coast Guard ship pounded the building in a freak accident. The office of the command chief is located on the floor above.
Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Sangram had returned from an operational deployment and was undergoing routine overhaul checks. “Suddenly, while carrying out a usual maintenance check on a 76mm Oto Melara SRGM gun, its empty shell got fired accidentally and hit the Western Command headquarters in the Mumbai docks. Thankfully, nobody was injured. Nothing apart from the brick wall and windows and some furniture was damaged. We were lucky the bolt from the blue had no charge, literally,” a source said.
An empty gun shell has no explosive charge — it only has a propellant.
“In fact, it is a practice not to attach explosives into guns during peace time — it saved us a huge tragedy. The impact of the empty shell is not a blast. Imagine it to be a huge mass of flying rock crashing into a building,” the source said.
ICGS Sangram was anchored at the special jetty for Coast Guard ships at the time.
“The incident sparked panic — people on the jetty started running here and there. Initially, we thought it was some sort of a terror attack or intruders in the naval area,” the source said.
An alert was sounded, security was stepped up and search operations set in motion at the naval dockyard by the time ICGS Sangram informed about the accidental misfire.
“The gun fired at the headquarter building from a distance of about… 700 to 800 yards,” the source said.
Three men working in the room that took the hit escaped unhurt. But the incident has shaken up the naval establishment in Mumbai.
“Since the implosion aboard INS Sindhurakshak in August, there has been a series of incidents at the navy’s Mumbai dockyard — frigates and submarines have run aground, there have been other accidents as well. But it took the pounding of the naval headquarter here for everybody to sit up,” the source said.
The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have ordered a board of inquiry into the freak incident.
But on Tuesday, navy and Coast Guard spokespersons refused to deny or confirm the incident.
“Maintenance work on ships of Coast Guard is routinely done by naval inspection facilities — especially when they return from operational deployment as in the case of ICGS Sangram — but such a bizarre incident is a first,” the officer said.
Sources in the navy said that since the incident, the navy top brass in Mumbai have gone back to their war room to strategise.