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HindustanTimes Mon,01 Sep 2014

INS Sindhuratna mishap: Navy chief resigns as 2 go missing, 7 injured

Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 26, 2014
First Published: 19:10 IST(26/2/2014) | Last Updated: 10:13 IST(27/2/2014)

Navy chief admiral DK Joshi resigned on Wednesday, hours after seven sailors suffered serious injuries and two officers remained "unaccounted for" in an accident on board India's Russian-built submarine, INS Sindhuratna.

The latest accident --- 11th after the INS Sindhurakshak sank in August --- has put the navy's dismal safety record under further scrutiny and underlined its inability to maintain its dwindling Kilo-class fleet.

Read: Navy chief, defence ministry were at odds over accidents

Joshi's resignation has been accepted by the government. A defence ministry spokesperson said he had stepped down taking moral responsibility for the recent accidents.

Navy vice chief vice-admiral Robin Dhowan will officiate as the chief, even though Western Naval Command chief vice-admiral Shekhar Sinha happens to be the senior-most admiral after Joshi's resignation.

The government will not pick Sinha to head the service as several recent accidents has taken place under his watch.

Read: Mishaps bring sub upgrades under the lens

The accidents under Admiral Joshi's watch had not only tarnished his track record as navy chief but also complicated his relationship with the defence ministry.

The ministry was upset with Joshi's inability to reduce mishaps. Much to the ministry's chagrin, the navy had been in a state of denial under Joshi and had even argued that its safety record was respectable, dismissing a few accidents as "non incidents."

Read: Navy may have itself to blame for series of recent accidents

Three months after the INS Sindhurakshak accident, defence minister AK Antony had asked the navy brass to "optimally operate" the country's assets and ensure these were not "frittered away." Joshi is said to have resented this perceived insinuation that the force wasn't conducting itself professionally.

Weeks later, admiral Joshi virtually brushed aside the minister's concerns, stressing that the navy's track record was "not that bad" compared with international navies. A rash of accidents that followed set off alarm bells in the ministry, with the minister giving a piece of his mind to Joshi on several occasions.

Read: In two years, Indian Navy may lose sub-sea edge over Pakistan

The combined cost of warships involved in recent accidents is pegged at more than Rs. 10,000 crore, at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has advised military commanders to exercise prudence in defence acquisitions and "cut our coat according to our cloth."

Dismayed over a string of accidents involving leading warships, defence Antony had asked the navy three weeks ago to clean up its act, saying he wasn't satisfied with the force's functioning.

Read: Who is DK Joshi

The latest mishap took place 50 km off the Mumbai coast early Wednesday, while the boat was on a routine training exercise. A navy officer said the sailors became unconscious after smoke started to fill the boat and were airlifted to a naval hospital in Mumbai. Fire in one of the battery compartments, triggered by a short circuit, could have caused the accident, a source said. 

Read: Following Joshi’s resignation, succession line-up goes for a toss

"The deputy electrical officer (a lieutenant commander) and the watch keeping officer (a lieutenant) are still missing. Compartments get sealed automatically when the fire-fighting system kicks in," the source said. Senior navy officials, including Commodore Commanding Submarines (West), were on board the submarine when the accident took place.

The submarine had undergone a refit at the naval dockyard in Mumbai barely two months ago, raising serious questions about the quality of upgrade it underwent.

Read: Threat from sea: submarine force to be weakest by 2015

Read: Twitter salute for Indian Navy chief for quitting with dignity

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Video: DK Joshi taking charge as Indian Navy chief on Aug 31, 2013


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