Seven accidents involving frontline warships in as many weeks have exposed major chinks in the Navy armour and punctured the claim of Admiral D K Joshi made last month that the safety record of the force was “not all that bad”.
In the latest incident, INS Betwa — a Brahmaputra-class guided missile frigate — is suspected to have run aground or collided with an unidentified object while approaching the Mumbai naval base.
The sonar dome mounted on the hull of the frigate commissioned in 2004 has cracked, leading to faulty readings and ingress of saltwater into sensitive equipment. The damage, which has prompted a board of inquiry, has rendered the ship ineffective.
The incident called “minor” by the Navy is the latest in a series that have come to light since December 4, Navy Day. Defence Minister A K Antony is believed to have sought a report.
Joshi, whose term as the Navy Chief has seen several major incidents, including the loss of the INS Sindhurakshak submarine, had on December 3 defended the safety record of the force.
The very next evening, India’s leading minesweeper, the INS Konkan that was undergoing repairs in Vizag, caught fire and suffered major damage to its interiors. The Pondicherry-class minesweeper was getting a refit at a dry dock when the incident occurred.
In another incident, a 30-mm gun on ICSG Sangram, a patrol boat undergoing a refit at the naval docks in Mumbai, fired accidentally. The shell pierced the Naval headquarters building damaging a few offices and narrowly missing a few officers.
Following this, the INS Tarkash — a Talwar-class frigate which has conducted several overseas missions — hit the jetty while berthing at the Mumbai naval base. Its hull was badly damaged.
Late at night on December 23, the Navy suffered a major embarrassment after the INS Talwar collided with a fishing vessel 10 miles off the coast, injuring many. The 27 people aboard the fishing vessel had to be rescued after it sunk.
The dwindling submarine force of the Navy too suffered a setback when the Kilo-class INS Sindhugosh was “grounded” at the Mumbai base after it entered shallow waters at low tide. The submarine was, however, freed and did not suffer much damage.
A fault on board the INS Vipul, a Veer-class corvette that recently underwent repairs and refit, has also come to light. The warship, sources said, had to be sent back for repairs after a breach was discovered during sailing.
Besides these seven accidents, the Navy suffered its biggest blow last year when the INS Sindhurakshak submarine went down at the Mumbai harbour due to still unexplained explosions, killing 18 sailors. Almost six months later, the submarine is still lying at the bottom of the naval dock in Mumbai.
The Navy Chief asserted last month that it takes months and years for sunken submarines to be brought to surface.