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Russian specialists to assist India in submarine explosion investigation

16 August 2013

The investigation team into the causes of the explosion and fire on an Indian submarine berthed at a Mumbai dockyard which killed 18 will include specialists from the Russian shipyard that recently refurbished it. The August 14 blast on the INS Sindhurakshak sank the vessel and it is currently lying at the bottom of the dock. 

A Russian-built Kilo class submarine
A Russian-built Kilo class submarine

The Indian navy may seek assistance from a Singapore-based company to lift the submarine, according to local sources.

The Sindhurakshak is one of ten 2,300-tonne Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines bought from Russia between 1986 and 2000. This class of cruise missile-launching submarine has suffered technical problems before, and in February 2010 a fire in the Sindhurakshak’s battery compartment killed one sailor.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that Russian experts’ initial suspicions pointed toward lax technical safety standards, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported. 

“I have instructed the United Shipbuilding Corporation to send more specialists to take part in the investigation of the tragedy and to provide all assistance necessary to our Indian friends,” Rogozin, who oversees the Russian defence industry, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

“The initial information … is that the explosion occurred in the compartment where the batteries were charging," he said. “This is the most dangerous work, which is not so much to do with the makers of these batteries, but with technical safety measures, which must be at the highest level. So the first suspicions of our experts are about questions of technical safety standards. We aren’t blaming the equipment yet,” he added.

India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral D. K. Joshi, said a team of experts is trying to determine why both manual and automatic alarm systems, which were supposed to alert the crew during emergencies, failed to go off.

Because the submarine was docked, a unit of navy watchmen was on board when the blasts occurred and not the normal crew, Joshi said. At least some weaponry exploded in the near-simultaneous blasts on board, he added.

Divers, searching for the bodies of the 18 sailors, have recovered six bodies so far, the Press Trust of India reported.

This is a setback for the Indian navy’s plans to establish a blue-water navy, capable of operating independently for long periods far from its bases. Of around 14 submarines in its fleet, the Indian navy only has a few operational at any one time and one of these was the Sindhurakshak, which was recently refitted at the Russian Zvyozdochka shipyard at a cost of $80m.

Last year, India bought a Russian Nerpa nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, on a 10-year lease from Russia at a cost of nearly $1bn. India and Russia are long-time allies and Russia supplies about 70% of India's military hardware.

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