INS Sindhurakshak tragedy: Submarine's twin hulls contained fire, reduced losses
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When the INS Sindhurakshak — the most modern of the Kilo class in service with India — suffered the explosion, the submarine contained the massive impact within its double hull structure. So massive was the impact that the entire interior of the vessel got sealed due to the heat and pressure generated from at least two explosions that were recorded.
Unlike most conventional submarines that comprise a single pressure hull within which all compartments, systems and quarters are housed, the Russian origin Kilo class had an outer hull as well, designed specifically to withstand blasts. The twin hulls ensured that the impact did not escape the vessel, but came at the cost of the men on board who most likely did not survive the initial blast.
The Navy on Thursday released the names of all personnel on board the Sindhurakshak: Lt Commander Nikhilesh Pal, Lt Commander Alok Kumar, Lt Commander R Venkitraj, Sanjeev Kumar, K C Upadhyay, Timothy Sinha, Kewal Singh, Sunil Kumar, Dasari Prasad, Liju Lawrence, Rajesh Tootika, Amit K Singh, Atul Sharma, Vikas E, Naruttam Deuri, Malay Haldar, Vishnu V and Seetaram Badapall.
Sources said that if a single hull submarine had suffered the explosion that sunk the Sindhurakshak — India's other class of Shishumar is single hulled — the impact would have engulfed surrounding warships and submarines, causing massive casualties. The ruptured hull would have also thrown out the heavy armament load in the warship, causing potential explosions in the surrounding area.
"The Mumbai dock is one of the most congested areas where warships are placed. The large number of ships and submarines in a small place make it very vulnerable to accidents. There is perhaps no other place in the world where warships are docked so close to each other," said an officer. Immediately after the explosions on the submarine, the Navy moved out all its warships from the dock to ensure their safety.
There have been at least three significant accidents at the Mumbai naval harbour in the last four years, mostly due to the congested sea lanes, given the heavy commercial traffic in the area. In June 2010, two Navy submarines — INS Sindhuratna and INS Sindhukesari — were involved in an accident when one of them grazed the other at a very low speed in the harbour, resulting in minor damage to both the vessels.
The biggest accident before Tuesday night was in January, when the INS Vindhyagiri, a heavily armed frigate, went down at the Mumbai harbour after a collision with merchant vessel M V Nordlake.
According to sources, the Mumbai dock is so congested that at times three submarines have to be docked next to each other due to lack of space. In the case of the Sindhurakshak too, it was docked with the Sindhuratna when the accident took place. The double hull contained the explosion, giving rescue teams enough time to remove the Sindhuratna that suffered only minor damage to its casing.
"We shudder to think what would have happened if the Sindhurakshak was docked on the outer side and the Sindhuratna was caught between the burning submarine and the dock side. It would have been very difficult to extricate the vessel," the officer added.
The only solution, officials said, is to decongest the Mumbai harbour by moving out warships to other bases on the western coast. However, due to lack of planning and paucity of resources, there has been no development of large naval bases to house new warships. The Karwar base in Karnataka, which is currently being expanded, is the one place where the Navy will move out its warships from Mumbai in the near future.