Two officers who were missing since the fire on board submarine INS Sindhuratna on Wednesday have died, the navy confirmed. Their bodies were found after the submarine was brought back to the Mumbai coast this morning.
Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi resigned taking moral responsibility for accidents on his watch.
The navy said Lieutenant Commander Kapish Muwal and Lieutenant Manoranjan Kumar died in the INS Sindhuratna fire. They had been declared missing yesterday after the accident in which seven sailors were injured. Their bodies were found in a submarine compartment.
Reports suggest the fire that broke out in the 25-year-old submarine could be due to malfunctioning batteries. The submarine was being sea tested after a refit; its batteries were reportedly not replaced because contracts were not finalised in time.
Seven sailors fell unconscious from suffocation while trying to control the fire and smoke and had to be airlifted to a Navy hospital in Mumbai. The submarine surfaced after the smoke was detected.
The Russian-origin Kilo Class submarine, one of India’s 14 conventional submarines, was carrying no weapons or ammunition. It had sailed out on Tuesday night and since it was still being tested, had not been placed under operational command yet.
Admiral DK Joshi resigned as Navy Chief hours after the accident. “It was my decision. I only consulted my wife,” he told a gathering of naval officers in Delhi today.
Defence Minister AK Antony, who has been criticised for accepting his resignation said, “I am very sad about the incident. Joshi came to me. He was very disturbed about the whole development. He said he would like to take responsibility and insisted that I accept his resignation. So I consulted everybody and the Prime Minister and ultimately took a decision to accept it.”
Former defence officers and experts say the minister should also resign.”Admiral Joshi has held himself to the highest standards of public morality. Mr Antony had the option to tell him not to go,” said strategic expert Admiral Raja Menon.
The government faces a dilemma over a successor for Admiral Joshi, who is the first military chief to resign. Vice Admiral Robin K Dhowan, who has been appointed as acting Naval Chief, is not the seniormost Naval officer after Admiral Joshi’s resignation. Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, currently the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command, based in Mumbai, is senior to Vice Admiral Dhowan.
The Sindhuratna fire was the 10th accident involving an Indian Navy asset and the third submarine accident in the last seven months. In August last year, Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak sank in the Mumbai harbour after an explosion on board, killing 18 sailors. (Navy hopeful of reusing INS Sindhurakshak)
Earlier this month, an amphibious warfare vessel INS Airavat ran aground after which its commanding officer was stripped of his command duties.