A massive explosion, followed by a fire, has partially sunk the Indian Navy’s diesel electric submarine INS Sindhurakshak early this morning at the Mumbai naval dockyard. Eighteen officers and sailors were reported to be aboard at the time of the explosion and have not been accounted for. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony has alluded to fatalities, though there is no further word on the fate of the missing sailors. The blast on the Sindhurakshak is also reported to have done minor damage to another submarine docked nearby, the sister vessel, INS Sindhuratna. Both submarines are Russian Kilo class vessels.
The INS Sindhurakshak had only recently returned from Russia following a two and a half year refit, overhaul and upgrade. The retrofit followed a 2010 fire in which one sailor was killed and two others were injured. Navy officials reported that the fire had been caused by an explosion in the submarine’s battery compartment, which occured due to a faulty battery valve that leaked hydrogen gas. There are reports that the batteries on the Sindhurakshak were being charged at the time of the explosion.
The past week had marked several positive milestones for the Indian Navy. Earlier this week, India launched its first home-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, and on Saturday announced that INS Arihant, the first Indian-built nuclear submarine was ready for sea trials. The explosion on the Sindhurakshak is a reminder of the other side of the story in which the Indian Navy is aging, overextended and suffering from chronic problems with corruption in defense contracting.
Thanks to Irwin Bryan and Alaric Bond for contributing to this post.