Admitting failure in salvaging the sunken Indian Navy submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, Defence Minister A K Antony told Parliament on Monday that international rescue experts had been called in to help.
“Globally renowned professional salvage agencies have been approached and they are undertaking the survey for salvage operations. There is also an offer of help from Russia, where the refit and upgrade had been undertaken,” Antony told the Rajya Sabha.
The stricken submarine, which suffered an ammunition explosion in the early hours of August 14, is lying partially submerged in about 15 metres of water at the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.
Antony also told Parliament that none of the 18 personnel on board at the time of the explosion are likely to have survived. “The rapidity and intensity of the explosion and the resultant damage sustained by the submarine indicate that the personnel would not have survived,” he said.
Painting a grim picture of the twisted wreckage in which naval divers are still looking for 12 bodies, Antony said, “Naval divers… could access only some parts of the submarine due to heavy damage and flooding of compartments, with obstructions from debris and structural distortions.”
So extensive is the damage that attempts to pump out the water from the sunken submarine have failed so far.
While Antony told Parliament that “the explosion was due to the possible ignition of armament,” it remained unclear what exactly set off the explosion. Experts have speculated that a hydrogen fire during battery charging was the most likely cause, but the minister said the reason would only become clear after the submarine was salvaged.
The minister also admitted that INS Sindhughosh, another submarine that was berthed alongside INS Sindhurakshak, had suffered a “minor fire” as a result of the explosion. The navy has not released any details of the extent of damage on the Sindhughosh.
With this incident, India’s already depleted fleet of submarines has been reduced to 13 vessels — nine Kilo-class Russian-origin submarines; and four Shishumar-class German-origin vessels. If the Sindhughosh requires major repair, the underwater fleet will be further weakened.
The remaining nine Kilo-class submarines will undergo “extensive checks on weapon-related safety systems and audit of Standard Operating Procedures,” said Antony.