The captains of two frontline warships have been stripped of their positions, with the Indian Navy blaming them for disturbing lapses that led to accidents under their command.
A top navy official said separate probes held INS Talwar’s skipper Captain (equivalent to an army colonel) Gopal Suri and INS Betwa’s commanding officer Captain Deepak Bisht responsible for the lack of adequate supervision and noncompliance with naval procedure.
Navy spokesperson Captain PVS Satish, however, said, “Bisht’s removal isn’t linked to the accident and is a routine transfer.”
Suri and Bisht are likely to face a court martial that could lead to loss of seniority, privileges and even dismissal from service, if found guilty. Incidentally, Bisht is heading the probe into the sinking of INS Sindhurakhshak, the navy’s worst peace-time tragedy.
INS Talwar, a Russia-built stealth frigate worth Rs.1,500 crore, infamously slammed into a trawler off the Ratnagiri coast on December 23 last year, sinking the boat and tossing 27 fishermen into the sea.
Barely two weeks later, INS Betwa, a guided missile frigate, ran aground near the Mumbai naval base on January 4, damaging critical equipment and raising questions about the navy’s safety record. “Such navigational errors are not expected from seasoned mariners commanding warships,” a defence ministry official said.
The reports of the boards of inquiry into the two accidents have been sent to the Western Naval Command chief Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha.
The navy is grappling with an accident-prone tag — seven accidents have been reported since the INS Sindhurakshak blew up and sank at a Mumbai harbour last August, killing all 18 men onboard.
“Every incident is thoroughly investigated and the shortcomings are corrected,” the navy official said.
The initial explanation for the INS Talwar accident was that the trawler was not lit and the waters were congested; this had left the ministry fuming.
“If it were an explosives-laden trawler, we would have been dealing with a USS Cole-like bombing,” the ministry official said. In October 2000, suicide bombers exploded a small boat alongside USS Cole, a US Navy destroyer, in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors and injuring another 39.
Referring to the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak, defence minister AK Antony had asked the navy last November to “optimally operate” the country’s assets and ensure these were not “frittered away.”