Not ruling out the “sabotage” angle behind explosions on Navy’s destroyed submarine INS Sindhurakshak, Defence Minister A K Antony on Thursday said the incident has cast a shadow on the force’s capability to safeguard country’s maritime interests.
Giving clarifications in the Rajya Sabha on the August 14 submarine explosion, he said the Navy has also ordered a study to assess the status of weapons on board the sunken submarine in view of fear of any further explosion during salvage operations.
“The Navy has ordered a Board of Inquiry (BoI) and it has started with all seriousness. Its terms of reference are to look into all aspects of causes of this incident will be examined by it. Nothing is ruled out. All likely aspects would be examined by the BoI,” Mr. Antony said.
Several members including Chandan Mitra (BJP) and Naresh Agrawal (SP) sought to know if sabotage was one of the reasons behind the accident which took place on the eve of Independence Day.
The Defence Minister said “at the moment, we cannot say conclusively about the exact cause of the incident. Our armed forces work on war footing on these aspects and they are also anxious on this issue.”
The Minister said of the 18 personnel on board the sunken vessel, bodies of eight had been found till Wednesday and they have been sent to the Naval hospital for post-mortem. “Death certificates of eight bodies cite extensive burns as the cause of death.”
He said five international and Indian companies are involved in surveying the vessel for salvage and after the vessel is dewatered and brought up, the team of Russian experts would be involved in the investigations.
Mr. Antony said the accident and the sinking of the vessel has “cast a shadow on capability of the Navy to safeguard interest in the vast coastlines and maritime area especially in the emerging security scenario in the Indian Ocean Region and extended region.”
The Defence Minister said naval divers are submitting all the material “including metals and partially burnt yellow coloured material found near the jetty are being inspected by the Naval armament inspectors to ascertain its composition.”
On the status of weapons still on board the submarine, he said a team comprising the chief of naval armament depot and commanding officer of a missile base has been set up.
“The team has been asked to carry out a detailed study to assess the state of explosives on board and quantify the risk associated with salvage operations because there is fear about further explosions. So, we are trying to clear that,” he said.
Mr. Antony said the water sample from the torpedo compartment of the submarine has been analysed in a laboratory in Pune and “immediate analysis does not indicate any presence of TNT in the water samples and the partially burnt yellow material. Further investigation is underway.”
He said the submarine refitted in Russia for two years was most modern and it involved a “large amount” of money.
“I can assure you, on one side, we will leave no stone unturned to salvage this submarine at the earliest and after that, follow up with further action. Navy is taking all steps to salvage this submarine at earliest and try to find out exact reasons. After that we will study the salvaged parts of the submarine,” he said.
The Minister clarified that there was no system of insuring warships and submarines in the Navy and armed forces.
He said diving operations of naval personnel were on to find out the “state of weapons and for locating water breaches in the vessel”.
Mr. Antony said the Defence Ministry was not getting funds adequately, but all funds given to his Ministry was being fully utilised.
“We are not getting adequate fund...the entire budget of the Ministry is being spent. There are many proposals in the pipeline,” he said.
He said those days were gone when Defence Ministry could not utilise all the allocated funds contrary to the current situation when no fund was refunded.
“We are not returning a single pie. But, we are not getting the expected fund,” he said.