Blast on Indian submarine is vessel's second fatal accident

As divers try to free 18 men trapped in diesel sub, inquiry begins into cause of lethal explosion

LAST UPDATED AT 12:37 ON Wed 14 Aug 2013

AN explosion and fire on an Indian submarine that killed several sailors and trapped 18 in the badly-damaged hull is the vessel's second fatal accident, Reuters reports.

The Russian-built INS Sindhurakshak was moored at a naval dock in Mumbai when the blast occurred just after midnight. An unspecified number of sailors were killed by the explosion and 18 are still trapped in the partially submerged hull.

Navy divers are working to locate and free survivors while 16 fire engines have spent four hours putting out a blaze ignited by the explosion. Some survivors have been taken to hospital, the BBC reports and an inquiry has been launched into the causes of the catastrophe.

"There are some people who are trapped on board; we are in the process of trying to rescue them," a navy spokesman told Reuters. "We will not give up until we get to them."

The incident is the most serious in the history of India's submarine service, but it is not the first time the Kilo-class diesel-electric sub has suffered a fatal accident. A member of Sindhurakshak's crew was killed in a similar accident in 2010 while it was docked in the southern port of Visakhapatnam.

The submarine had recently returned from an $80 million upgrade in Russia, but a spokesman for the company that carried out the work insisted it was fully operational.

Sindhurakshak, one of India's fleet of 14 submersibles, is understood to be carrying torpedoes and missiles. There is no word about the condition of the weapons or whether they pose a risk.

Retired Indian navy chief Arun Prakask told Reuters that the cramped interiors of submarines put them at high risk of an accident.

"Lots of things are in very close proximity, there is fuel, there is hydrogen, there is oxygen, there are weapons with high explosives on board," he said. "So a slightest mistake or slightest accident can trigger off a huge accident. The question of sabotage - I mean, all possibilities have to be considered - but sabotage is probably the last possibility."

India's ageing submarine fleet is "in urgent need of modernisation", says Reuters, although its safety record is considerably better than that of its air force.

The accident has cast a shadow over the launch this week of a locally-built aircraft carrier, hailed as a "milestone" by Indian navy chiefs. · 

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