INS Sindhurakshak: Indian Navy sticks to ‘accident’ story behind submarine disaster
Rajat Pandit, TNN | Aug 17, 2013, 02.17 AM IST Times of India
NEW DELHI: Preliminary assessments show "a plain and simple accident" in the "fully-loaded" weapons compartment of INS Sindhurakshak, which caused "sympathetic detonation" of some missile and torpedo warheads, probably led to the sinking of the Kilo-class submarine in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Though holding that the board of inquiry (BoI) headed by senior submariner Commodore Deepak Bhist will pinpoint the reason, top naval sources on Friday virtually ruled out hydrogen gas leakage, "a major material failure", or sabotage being responsible for the disaster.
This then leaves "mishandling of ammunition" as the most plausible reason for the massive explosions that even "ejected" a Klub-S cruise missile out of the vessel. Asked about this, the sources said even if "mishandling" was the case, it was "more of an accident" rather than "lack of training or expertise".
"Something could have slipped from someone's hand ... a device could have malfunctioned. We don't know yet since the mangled submarine is still underwater. But the 18 on board were highly-experienced, including three officers and three `underwater weapons specialist' petty officers (junior commissioned officers)," said a source.
INS Sindhurakshak, with a full complement of 18 missiles and torpedoes, was set to sail on "a long deployment patrol" early on Wednesday morning. The submarine's second-in-command or executive officer Lt-Commander Nikhilesh Pal, a bachelor, was on board for the final "prepare sub for sea" when something went drastically wrong.
"The torpedo air flask, which contains compressed pure oxygen, could have exploded due to something even if the exploder mechanism had not been inserted into it. Sympathetic detonation would have followed since the missiles and torpedoes are stacked together in the six tubes and the 12 racks behind them," said the source.
Rejecting hydrogen gas leakage as a "dim possibility", the sources said the 240 lead acid batteries, each weighing around 800kg, on the submarine were "brand new" after its over two-year $156 million refit in Russia.
" Old batteries emit more hydrogen. The maximum amount of hydrogen is emitted while batteries are being charged ... the process had been finished in INS Sindhurakshak over two days before the mishap. Moreover, Hydrogen levels are continuously monitored by duty-watch sailors," he said.
Similarly, the possibility of "a major material failure" is being discounted since the submarine had undergone extensive sea-trials, checks and certification processes after its refit. "INS Sindhurakshak had already finished 1,000 dived hours after the refit. If there was a defect, it would have been detected and rectified during the operations as well as the regular `turning of arms' drills during everything is powered on," he added.
Sabotage also looks "highly-unlikely" because it would require "a long chain of conspirators and insiders" who could get access to the submarine guarded round-the-clock while it was berthed in harbour. "Nothing, of course, can be completely ruled out till the forensic examination of the submarine and the exact sequence of events established during the BoI," he said.