Submarine safety... By Mobeen
27 August, 2013
An Indian navy submarine, the Sindhurakshak, with about 18 sailors on board, caught fire after an explosion last Wednesday. While the exact cause of the explosion onboard the Sindhurakshak is still to be determined, it puts a spotlight on the spate of incidents involving naval vessels. Since 2005, at least 10 serious incidents have been reported. Among them five are related to the Sindhughosh class of submarines, of which Sindhurakshak is one.
In April 2006, the INS Prahar naval patrol vessel, which was on its return journey to Mumbai from Goa, sank at a distance of 20 nautical miles from the coast. The 16-year-old Russian-made submarine, the INS Sindhurakshak, also suffered an explosion in 2010, which killed one sailor and injured two others. The Indian navy said that the accident was caused by a faulty battery valve that leaked hydrogen, causing an explosion in the vessel's battery compartment.
Another incident occurred on January 2011 when the Indian naval ship INS Vindhyagiri caught fire after a collision with a foreign merchant vessel at the Mumbai harbour. The fire erupted as the engine and boiler rooms of the ship were damaged in a collision with a merchant vessel. The badly damaged war ship eventually went down battling a blaze at the naval dockyard.
A recent report by India's comptroller and auditor general (CAG) on the submarine fleet revealed that the operational availability of the existing boats was "as low as 48 percent". The CAG report also warned that more than 50 percent of submarines have completed three-fourths of their operational life and some are already beyond their maximum service life, compelling the navy to deal with the challenges of handling an increasingly obsolete fleet safely. While these incidents may reflect training and safety lapses coupled with an ageing fleet, safety is, doubtless, a paramount concern not only in the running of conventionally armed submarines, which presently operate out of bases surrounded by densely populated cities, and even more so in the case of nuclear submarines.