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A rash of accidents involving India’s leading warships may have far-reaching implications not only for the country’s security but also the navy’s future hierarchy.
Causing severe embarrassment to the navy, the accidents --- nine in six months -- have taken operational warships out of active duty and knocked some high-flying officers out of the race for top ranks.
At least five warship skippers have been stripped of command over the last 18 months, including JPS Virk, captain of INS Airavat, which ran aground off the Visakhapatnam coast last week.
“Some of the officers sacked from command were poised for senior ranks. The complexion of naval hierarchy is beginning to change,” a navy officer said.
Captain Gopal Suri of INS Talwar, which rammed a trawler on December 23, 2013, is staring at a court martial. But one of his predecessors, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, is tipped to take over as the navy chief next year.
It is learnt that the defence ministry is shocked by the turn of events and has taken umbrage at the navy’s state of denial.
Refusing to accept that the navy was passing through a testing phase, a senior officer had said accidents took place on the highways too. “That’s a lame excuse,” said a defence ministry official. “Seasoned mariners are expected to have higher professional standards than truck drivers.”
The accidents have also brought under scrutiny the navy’s criteria for picking officers to command warships. The ministry is likely to ask the navy to bring in a more rigourous system to assign warship command, as many incumbents haven’t lived up to the standards expected of them.
Suri and Deepak Bisht, captain of INS Betwa, were removed from command in January, with the navy holding them responsible for disturbing lapses.