A Navy commander died and two personnel had to be hospitalised on Friday following an accident on board a Kolkata-class destroyer undergoing trials at the Mumbai Port Trust, weeks before it joined the naval fleet.
The officer, identified as Commander Kuntal Wadhwa, collapsed after the fire suppression systems on board the Kolkata warship, currently designated Yard 701, malfunctioned during trials. The officer inhaled a large amount of carbon dioxide during the malfunction, leading to his death.
Two personnel of the Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL), where the ship has been constructed, were also affected and have been hospitalised.
Almost two dozen major and minor accidents have taken place involving frontline warships of the Navy in the last six months, which ultimately led to the resignation of Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi last month.
An official statement released by MDL said the ship was “undergoing machinery trials in Mumbai Port Trust (and) had a malfunction in its carbon dioxide unit, leading to gas leakage”.
Sources said several systems of the ship were being tested when the incident took place in the engine room. The officer, the sources said, was not wearing protective equipment.
“There was sudden leakage from the carbon dioxide cylinders of the fire suppression systems that led to a lot of panic and confusion on the ship. While trying to evacuate, the officer tripped and fell inside, inhaling excessive amounts of the gas,” an official said.
Sources said the officer was also possibly hit by the valve of the fire control systems that burst open.
The accident is a major setback for the Navy as the Kolkata-class destroyer, called P 15 A, was to be inducted next month as the most advanced, indigenous warship in its fleet. Already running four years behind schedule, the Kolkata is the first of its class and is to be followed by the Chennai and the Kochi which are under construction as part of a Rs 15,000-crore project. Three more advanced P 15 B destroyers have been planned thereafter.
The accident is likely to delay its induction as the Navy will now conduct a comprehensive safety review of the vessel before accepting it for duty.
This is the second accident in the past two week — two officers died on board the submarine INS Sindhuratna after a cable fire in the sailors compartment. The officers died of asphyxia after the fire control systems of the submarine was activated to suppress the smoke.
Similar to the Kolkata, the Russian-origin Nerpa nuclear submarine also suffered an incident in 2008 due to the accidental activation of its fire control system weeks before it was to be handed over to India as the INS Chakra. The submarine suffered a loss of 21 lives.
In February 2008, leakage of gas from the water purification system on board the troop carrier INS Jalashwa led to the loss of six lives.