Behind Sindhuratna disaster, a struggling Navy

Leaking gas from batteries might have triggered fire aboard ageing submarine: naval sources

February 27, 2014 03:28 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Leaking hydrogen from batteries stored in the forward compartment of the INS Sindhuratna might have set off Wednesday’s fire which claimed the lives of two naval officers and injured seven, highly-placed naval sources told The Hindu . Sailors in the forward compartment battled the flames even while inhaling freon, a fire-retardant gas, from the ship’s automatic fire-fighting system, the sources said.

The two officers killed, the sources said, could not be evacuated in time when the compartment was sealed off to prevent the blaze from spreading.

Seaking helicopters were scrambled from Mumbai to evacuate injured crew. The seven sailors, who inhaled toxic gas, are now being treated at INS Aswini, the naval hospital in Mumbai.

“Even as the Navy must be asked hard questions about how this tragedy happened, I think we should salute the courage of the sailors involved, who potentially averted a far larger tragedy,” said maritime expert and former naval officer commodore C. Uday Bhaskar

In November 2008, the accidental discharge of Freon gas in an Akula class nuclear-powered attack submarine killed 20 Russian sailors and injured 41 others. That submarine, interestingly, now serves in the Indian fleet, renamed INS Chakra.

Part of a series of Kilo-class submarines purchased from the Soviet Union, Sindhuratna was commissioned into the Navy in 1988, and was originally intended to have been phased out in 2013.

However, delays in the modernisation programme had led the Navy to first cut back its operational hours, and then engage in a refit intended to extend the submarine’s seaworthiness.

In a report released last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General warned that “The Navy currently holds just 67% of the force level envisaged in its 1985 [maritime expansion] plan.” Privately, naval officials say the submarine fleet functions at just 40 per cent of its operational need.

India had commissioned a production line for German-designed U-209 submarines, also known as the Shishumar class, anticipating the ageing of its Kilo-class submarines. However, the line was closed down after the construction of INS Shishumar in 1994, after a scandal over alleged payoffs.

Though hulls have been laid for six French-designed Scorpene submarines, production delays mean it will be several years before the first vessel becomes available for service. France last year threatened to withdraw from the project, pointing to multiple delays since the agreement was signed in 2005.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.