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INS Sindhuratna – a tale of neglect

It seems the main reason of the fire caused on the submarine INS Sindhuratna was the delay in changing the batteries. These ageing batteries are suspected to have caused fire and had the battery compartment engulfed in smoke which was detected by Lt Cdr Kapish Singh Muwal and Lt Cdr Manoranjan Kumar who bravely shoved their colleagues to safety and laid down their lives for their duty. However it is indeed a shame for the country, the Defence ministry and the top brass in the Indian Navy that such incidents have claimed lives of their courageous soldiers. Wreaths were duly laid at the coffins of the brave sailors to honour them in Mumbai but indeed they could have served the country much better. In times of emergency, insurgency or even foreign attack the country and the people depend upon the valor of such officers of the armed forces, many of whom have been lost by the Indian Navy for their unreasonably limited vision.

Delay in buying the latest armory, upgrading of the current fleet and their allied equipment and bad maintenance has today come to face the Navy in the form of a series of mishaps claiming invaluable lives and crippling their fleets. The blue water is being splashed with the blood of Indian sailors and the resignation of the Navy’s top order is not what the need of the hour is. The ageing submarine batteries could not be replaced as the Ministry of Defence had disapproved to their acquisition causing a scarcity for them. INS Sindhuratna was a kilo class submarine with old and unchanged batteries which had not been changed during its renovation in last year December. The result of this complex and illogical acts of the Indian Navy and the Ministry of Defence led to an explosion claiming the lives of two officers severely injuring seven others. The INS Sindhuratna is a diesel-electric vessel running on batteries while being submerged. It runs on 240 lead acid batteries weighing about 800 kg each. These batteries release flammable hydrogen gas while charging. Any fire or smoke detection immediately invokes safety systems that act to extinguish the source of fire. It was due to this emergency fire extinguishing activity that the two sailors were isolated in a death trap of poisonous gases that snuffed life out of them slowly and painfully.

A high level investigation has been ordered by the Navy under Flag Officer Rear Admiral S.V. Bokhare that will delve into each detail of the accident. On completion it will reveal every detail of the cause, extent and result of explosion in the battery compartment. The fact of life points to the indelible truth that they failure of planning by the Ministry of Defence and its implementation by the Indian Navy is in ruins as obsolete batteries were allowed to run on submarines. Two accidents on two kilo class submarines within six months is likely to awaken the sleeping Defence Ministry. It was by rule that the Naval Ensign on board all warships and naval establishments in Mumbai were lowered at half mast to honour the dead officers but the replacement of ageing batteries on board the rest of the kilo class submarine fleet of the Indian Navy could have been a better adage to them. One of the dead officers had even spoken out to his family about his anxiety arising due to the presence of the ageing batteries on board the INS Sindhuratna but alas the Defence Ministry did nothing to alter them.

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