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.
File photo of Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi who resigned on Wednesday in the wake of INS Sindhuratna submarine accident. PTI
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.
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"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: 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