Russia has handed a new nuclear-powered submarine over to India for a 10-year lease, Russian news agencies reported on Friday, two years after an accident during testing killed 20 people. The Nerpa, under the command of an Indian crew, left its base on Russia's Pacific coast earlier this week, bound for an Indian naval base, Interfax news agency quoted a source in Russia's military-industrial complex as saying.
Citing a source in Russia's Pacific Fleet, RIA news agency said the submarine was manned by a mixed Russian-Indian crew.
Another RIA report, citing the plant that built the Nerpa, said the submarine had not yet been officially handed over to India. It said the Indian crew was only training aboard the Nerpa at sea.
Russia's Defence Ministry and navy could not be immediately reached for comment. The press service of the Pacific Fleet declined to give any details.
The Nerpa is the latest of a class of attack submarines codenamed "Akula" by NATO, which are armed with torpedoes and cruise missiles. Building of the Nerpa began in 1993 but the submarine was only launched and started sea trials in 2008 due to the piecemeal funding of its construction.
In November 2008 the submarine was on sea trials when its fire extinguishing system switched on unexpectedly. Twenty people died after inhaling the toxic gas used as a fire suppressant, authorities said.
The accident was the deadliest to hit Russia's navy since 2000, when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank beneath the Barents Sea, killing all 118 sailors on board.
Quoting its source in the fleet, RIA said that since January the Nerpa had made a voyage to Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, after which the plant that built it and other specialists "reduced its underwater noise to a minimum".
He also said the vessel's manoeuvrability deep underwater had been improved. "After the nuclear submarine was brought in line with all Western standards, a submarine crew arrived from India," he said.
India, Russia's close economic and political partner since Soviet days, accounted for a quarter of Moscow's arms exports last year, according to estimates by the Centre for Analysts of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defence think-tank.