Inflated floats have been brought in to ‘right’ the capsized Indian Navy Ship (INS) Betwa, the guided missile frigate that met with a freak accident last month killing two sailors on-board. The ship had tipped over during undocking at the Naval Dockyard in South Mumbai on December 5, 2016. Sources said nearly 25 per cent of the frigate was flooded after the accident, but the water has now been pumped out to avoid any reaction from the flood water mixing with chemicals on the ship and emitting poisonous fumes. The Navy aims to salvage the frigate and make it ‘fighting-fit’ in the next two years, sources claim.
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Sources said that the Navy would soon start the process of floating a tender for companies to haul up the 3,850-tonne Brahmaputra-class guided missile warship and make her float. While the cost for this would be substantial, the Navy is ready to foot it, as the defence ministry is keen on rescuing the ship, sources claim.
INS Betwa was commissioned in 2006 and was built at a cost of Rs 600 crore.
“It’s been a month since the freak accident and we are making substantial progress in rescuing the ship.The capsized vessel now rests on inflated floats and the water that had flooded it has been drained out completely.”
“This was done to ensure that the waterlogging doesn’t causes any chemical reaction that could generate poisonous fumes,” said a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “While this is stage one of the exercise, the salvage work will commence in full swing once the tender process is complete and the contractors are hired,” added the official.
“‘Righting’ a capsized vessel is a herculean task. While it looked impossible initially, we have decided to go the distance to make her war-ready,” said the official. “The main mast of the ship, which contains a few sensors, has been broken in the accident. Some antennae have also been damaged,” he added.
A Board of Inquiry (BoI), which was constituted after the accident, has been asked to probe the cause of the mishap. Sources privy to the details told The Indian Express that while it was being probed if the mishap was an accident, ‘human error’ could not be ruled out.
“Undocking of a ship is a very critical phase as the ship is made buoyant to set her afloat. It is done in a calibrated fashion to allow the ship placed on the dock blocks to float itself without too much external intervention or stabilising effort.”
“The aim is to allow the process take place gradually and naturally, for which weight calculations are done and ballast conditions properly ensured,” explained another official. “These calculations are shared by the crew with the dock master, who takes up responsibility once the ship enters dry dock.”
“There is a trained crew and the entire exercise is carried out using specialised equipment. The accident is the first in Naval history and the BOI will ascertain its exact cause: if it was an accident owing to snapping of cables or any technical snag. However, human error cannot be ruled out,” added the official.
Two sailors were killed and 14 injured in the accident. Only 10 per cent of the weaponry installed on the warship was actually onboard at the time of the accident, the latest in a series of mishaps over the last three years in the Western Naval Command. In 2013, 18 persons had been killed after INS Sindhurakshak caught fire following explosions onboard.
A Brahmaputra-class-guided missile frigate, INS Betwa is named after the Betwa river in Madhya Pradesh. It participated in Operation Cactus in 1988, when India tried to restore the democratically elected government following an attempted coup against the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by Sri Lanka mercenaries.
A part of Task Force 54, INS Betwa also participated in Operation Sukoon, by evacuating stranded Indian nationals from Lebanon to Cyrus after the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out in 2006.
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