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More on Indian Submarine Fire

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More on Indian Submarine Fire

Postby Tom Dougherty » Fri Aug 16, 2013 4:37 pm

Divers Recover 4 Bodies From Sunken Indian Submarine

New York Times
August 16, 2013.

NEW DELHI — Naval divers recovered four badly burned bodies on Friday from the Indian submarine that exploded and sank in Mumbai with 18 crew members aboard, according to the Indian news agencies, and naval officials said it was highly unlikely that any survivors would be found.

The bodies were so disfigured that officials say they will have to use DNA analysis to identify them. The state of the bodies, along with conditions within the vessel, which sank early Wednesday, have led to the “firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely,” the navy said in a statement.

Boiling water within the submarine, the Russian-made INS Sindhurakshak, made it impossible for divers even to enter the vessel until noon on Wednesday, hours after the explosions that sank it, the navy said. Once the divers were inside, oily and muddy water made for zero visibility even with high-powered underwater lamps.

The damage from the explosions resulted in so much twisted metal that only one diver at a time could work in the submarine’s tiny spaces. After 36 hours of continuous effort, the divers finally reached a compartment early Friday where they found the four bodies, the navy’s statement said.

Extremely high temperatures in the forward section of the submarine meant not only that the sailors there were almost certainly dead, but also that their bodies were probably incinerated, the navy said. “However, the navy will continue to search every inch of the submerged submarine till all bodies are either located or it can be stated with finality that no bodies remain to be found,” the statement said.

The cause of the explosions on the 16-year-old Sindhurakshak remain a mystery. Mohan Guruswamy, a military analyst with the Observer Research Foundation, said he visited the submarine the day before the explosion and found it to be “in great shape.”

Mr. Guruswamy said the crew was preparing for a departure early Wednesday morning on a routine patrol, and he speculated that munitions were mishandled during the preparations. “The feeling among naval officers is that while loading the missiles, something happened,” said Mr. Guruswamy, who praised the crew as “very smart, very tough guys.”

Mr. Guruswamy said the Sindhurakshak was the navy’s most advanced submarine and had Indian-made sensor equipment that made it more effective than its Russian designers and builders had envisioned. The submarine carried cruise missiles that allowed it to strike targets on land more than 100 miles away.

Officials believe that a small explosion within the submarine set off two huge blasts from its onboard munitions. Video of the explosions seems to show two separate bursts that threw flames hundreds of feet into the air. The Sindhurakshak’s sister ship, the INS Sindhuratna, was berthed nearby and was damaged by the explosion but was saved by the quick reaction of firefighters.

The Sindhurakshak had 21 sailors on its night watch, but three of the men were stationed on the submarine’s exterior and managed to dive to safety.

Deep Kumar, whose brother, Lt. Cmdr. Alok Kumar, was one of three officers on the submarine when it blew up, said he and his parents had been keeping a vigil in Mumbai waiting for news. He said the family had spoken with his brother the night before the explosion. “He was fine, and there was no indication of any danger or wrongdoing,” Mr. Kumar said.

He said the navy had told them there was no chance that his brother was alive, because temperatures in the submarine had risen past 500 degrees Celsius, or about 900 degrees Fahrenheit, after the explosion.

“We are hoping against hope,” he said.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

Grim Hunt for 18 Indian Sailors Trapped on Navy Submarine After Explosion

Published: August 14, 2013,NYT

NEW DELHI — Indian naval divers on Wednesday afternoon opened the main hatchway of a stricken, Russian-made Indian submarine that caught fire, blew up and sank at dock earlier in the day in one of the worst naval accidents in Indian history

But visibility for the divers within the sunken boat was almost zero, and the effort to rescue or recover the 18 missing crew members was expected to take time. Three sailors who were on the outside of the ship when it exploded managed to scramble to safety.

Adm. D. K. Joshi, India’s naval chief, said at a news conference that the chances were slim that any of the missing sailors remained alive.

“There is a possibility, however remote it might be, of an air pocket,” he said. “We hope for the best but have to be ready for the worst.”

The submarine was docked at the Lion Gate naval shipyard, close to South Mumbai’s busy financial district and within two miles of the Gateway of India. The water where the accident occurred is so shallow that part of the stricken vessel protruded above the surface.

Admiral Joshi said there had been no communication with the missing crew since a small explosion around midnight near the bow of the submarine ignited two huge blasts from onboard munitions, possibly torpedoes or cruise missiles. The heat from the explosions and the resulting two-hour fire was so intense that it fused the submarine’s hatchways, making rescue efforts even more challenging.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of sabotage, although the indicators at this time would not support that conclusion,” Admiral Joshi said. “It is essentially an onboard explosion.”

The cause of the explosion on the 16-year-old INS Sindhurakshak, could not be immediately determined. After a February 2010 explosion in the battery compartment left one dead and two injured, the vessel was sent to the Zvezdochka shipyard in Russia for a two-and-a-half-year, $80 million retrofit. It was handed back to the Indian Navy in January, and went on a three-month, 10,000-mile shakedown cruise that ended successfully in April in Mumbai.

The crew had recharged the sub’s batteries three days before the blast, so a battery leak was not a likely cause this time, Admiral Joshi said.

After divers explore the submarine for survivors, they will try to seal two or three internal compartments, expel the water and refloat the boat, Admiral Joshi said. Only then will investigators be able to begin to look into the causes of the accident.

Defense Minister A. K. Antony went to Mumbai, where the entrance to the shipyard was heavily guarded on Wednesday by police and naval personnel. A scrum of journalists and onlookers stood outside the gates for much of the day.

“I express my heartfelt condolences to the families of those sailors and officers who were inside this submarine,” the minister said at the news conference.

An Indian news channel, NDTV, broadcast a viewer’s video of what appeared to be a series of blasts lighting up the Mumbai sky. The explosions took place a day before India’s Independence Day celebrations, when security is normally tightened at government offices and military facilities.

The Sindhurakshak is one of the 10 Kilo-class submarines that form the backbone of India’s conventional submarine force. India is building a new class of conventional submarines, called the Scorpene, with French and Spanish help. But that effort, like many Indian defense projects, has been marred by delays and squabbling among its international partners, and the first submarines are not expected to be delivered until 2015 at the earliest.

India has long relied on Russian-made military equipment, including MIG-21 fighters, whose safety and reliability have been increasingly questioned. India is the largest arms buyer in the world because its own defense manufacturing industry has been unable to deliver high-quality, low-cost weapons to satisfy the country’s wide range of defense needs.

“This accident again raises questions about Russian standards of manufacture and repair,” Adm. Arun Prakash, who retired from the Indian Navy in 2006, said in an interview. “Russian equipment is not always the best, and it is prone to failures.”

India’s defense purchases are increasingly crucial to the Russians, who have lost major customers in Libya and other Arab nations affected by the Arab Spring. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia visited India in December and signed weapons contracts valued at $2.9 billion.

India’s submarine service was already depleted before the explosion. Only nine of its submarines were considered operational before Wednesday, and just five or six are operating at any given time — too few to guard India’s extensive coastline adequately.

India has become increasingly concerned about China’s naval ambitions and is desperately trying to catch up with its larger rival’s rapid naval-building program. But China now has roughly 260 ships compared with fewer than 100 for India.

India’s attempts to create its own defense manufacturing sector have been riddled with failure. Efforts to design and build new aircraft, tanks, howitzers and machine guns have failed spectacularly in recent decades.

The navy has fared relatively better than the other branches, and its launching of the hull of the first indigenously built aircraft carrier on Monday was a huge step forward. But the navy still must buy critical matériel and technology from foreign suppliers.

Yet corruption scandals have marred Indian defense contracting so badly that the government has slowed its purchases abroad for fear of igniting further controversy. Unable to build or buy, India is becoming dangerously short of vital defense equipment, analysts say.

A recent scandal involved a $600 million contract for 12 high-end helicopters for top Indian officials, bought from the Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica. Italian prosecutors say the contract was marred by bribery and that Finmeccanica knew some of the Indian Air Force’s supposedly secret requirements for the contract while bidding on it.

Another problem has been a history of distrust of the military by India’s dominant political class. India won its independence through strikes and protest marches, not by force of arms, and India’s main rival, Pakistan, has been dominated by military dictators for much of its history. India’s leaders have tried to keep its military at a distance, and military leaders are rarely invited into the inner circle of decision-making.

India’s strategic challenges are mounting. After a long quiescence, India and Pakistan have recently traded fire along their disputed boundary in Kashmir, and China has been probing its disputed border regions with India in unusually confrontational ways.

And after a nearly a decade of rapid growth, India’s economy has in recent months slowed substantially. The value of the rupee has plunged while the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, making purchases of foreign equipment even more difficult and dear.

“This is a turbulent birthday for India,” C. Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore who is now with the National Maritime Foundation, the navy’s civilian research center, said in an interview. “The security challenges for this country are complex and mounting.”

Neha Thirani Bagri contributed reporting from Mumbai, India, and Malavika Vyawahare from New Delhi.
Tom Dougherty
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