Tragedy after triumph


To say that the twin explosions aboard INS Sindhurakshak that sank the submarine at the naval dockyard in Mumbai on the midnight of Wednesday cast a...

To say that the twin explosions aboard INS Sindhurakshak that sank the submarine at the naval dockyard in Mumbai on the midnight of Wednesday cast a shadow on the Independence Day celebrations next day is glossing over a tragedy of enormous weight. With no hope of finding three officers and 15 sailors who are presumed dead, the tragedy is the worst of its kind to happen for the country. Besides the loss of precious lives that include two men from the coastal city of Vizag in the State in the accident, it raises a few questions about the ageing fleet of subs bought from Russia and their safety.

Costing about $113 million, INS Sindhurakshak was commissioned in December 1997 and refitted at a price tag of $156 million in Russia between September 2010 and January this year and reached the Indian shores in April after extensive sea trials and a long journey. It was 9th of 10 Kilo Class diesel-electric conventional subs India has acquired. Incidentally, the same sub was involved in an accident that killed a sailor on board when there was an explosion in the battery compartment at Vizag port on February 26, 2010. In May this year, on way to India from Russia after retrofit, the same sub ran into rough weather near Egypt and it was towed to an Egyptian naval dockyard after an SOS.

In a way, Sindhurakshak is jinxed and appears to have been doomed. Its total price tag with mid-life boost makes it pricey at $269 million. Despite its cost, and claims of incorporating several safety features, both manual and mechanical, what spelt its doom is still a mystery. While sabotage is not completely ruled out, though such chances are miniscule, several possibilities are being floated. Until the board of inquiry submits its report and divers salvage the log records, none can possibly pinpoint the cause of the accident.

Nevertheless, it is a setback to India in the sense that its ambitious modernization of naval forces has suffered a minor loss, although submarine accidents are not uncommon among those who possess them. Almost all the countries with submarine fleets have suffered minor or major accidents under water and at dockyards and India is no exception. But what makes it an exception for us is its occurrence on the eve of the Independence Day and two days after the country celebrated its twin triumphs in sea security. The first was the nuclear reactor aboard INS Arihant that went critical on Saturday and the second was the launch of an aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on Monday. The doube achievements have pushed India to the forefront of global navies and prompted the Big Powers to take note of India making waves, rather silently.

No doubt, INS Sindhurakshak going down with 18 men onboard was tragic, but it should not deter us from pursuing the goal of building a formidable naval force to safeguard the country from enemy attacks. More importantly, a potent navy is a necessity to protect our interests and resources offshore as the global competition for energy sources increases. At the same time, it is incumbent upon us to develop our own submarine-building capabilities to reduce our dependence on others. The sub explosion should make our defence planners to sit up and think ways of averting such accidents in future and expedite the plans to build more subs, both conventional and nuclear, to give the Navy more power.

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