Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan will take over as Acting Naval Chief till a regular Chief is appointed.

India’s navy chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi resigned as chief of the Indian navy, owning “moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents during the past few months”, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday. Admiral Joshi is the first Indian military commander to have resigned since General Kodandera Subayya Thimmaiah in 1959 -- and the only to have his resignation accepted by the government.

The naval chief's resignation came hours after a fire on board the newly-refitted Sindhuratna claimed the lives of two naval officers and injured seven -- the third in a series of submarine accidents, including an explosion on the Sindhurakshak which exploded and sank in Mumbai’s naval dockyard in August, 2013, killing 18 crew. Last month, the Sindhughosh ran ground on its way to Mumbai harbour, though without loss of life.

Experts that the resignation also came against concerns within the navy on the capabilities of its fleet, and “It is highly principled of the Admiral to offer his resignation”, said Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, a prominent naval analyst and former officer “but I suspect the real reasons have to do with frustration over successive governments failing to modernise the submarine fleet”.

Dangerous fleet

Five of, of India’s thirteen conventionally-powered submarines, naval sources have told The Hindu, have exceeded their design life. The INS Sindhughosh, Sindhudhaj, the Sindhuraj, Sindhuvir and ill-fated Sindhuratna, all Russian-manufactured Kilo-class submarines, were all inducted between 1986 and 1988. The most recent of the Kilo-class fleet, the Sindhushastra, was puchased in 2000, preceded by the Sindhurakshak in 1997, and the Sindhuvijay was inducted in 1991.

The Sindhurakshak had suffered an earlier fire accident in 2010, which claimed the life of a sailor.

“In an ideal world”, a senior submarine commander said, “you’d want to keep a submarine in active service for no more than two decades or so. The navy has refitted its submarines to keep them running, but age obviously increases the risks of material failures significantly”.

The Navy has long complained of delays in submarine fleet modernisation, at a time when regional navies, notably China, are dramatically expanding their fleets. India also does not have a full-fledged submarine rescue vessel.

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