Friday, Oct 31, 2014

The real naval disaster

CR Sasikumar Photo: CR Sasikumar
Posted: March 5, 2014 12:03 am

By: Ravi Sharma

Recent incidents have only highlighted that the navy’s submarines are old and should have been replaced

Beginning in August 2013, when the Indian naval submarine Sindhurakshak sank, stories have been appearing about naval “disasters”, culminating with the fire on the Sindhuratna, another submarine of the same class, which resulted in the death of two officers. This led to the resignation of the naval chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi, owning moral responsibility for all the incidents.

This is only the second time that a naval chief has demitted office before time. In the case of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 1998, while the majority view of the navy, including retired officers, was that the manner in which he was dismissed was wrong, some believed that he was too autocratic and had overstepped his authority. In Joshi’s case, however, there is unanimity that he was not to blame but has taken a bold, honourable and courageous step on his own, setting a fine example for all.

Amidst the noise and hullabaloo, the “disasters” have not been critically examined to see whether they deserve to be termed as such. Let us get an obvious error out of the way: the incident of the empty gunshell fired from ICGS Sangram that hit the Western Naval Command headquarters in February 2014. Sangram is a vessel of the Coast Guard, which is an independent service and has nothing to do with the navy. 

Coming to the navy, the collision of INS Talwar with a fishing vessel in December 2013 could only have been due to misjudgement on the part of the ship’s staff or negligence of the fishing vessel crew. Pending completion of a board of inquiry, the commanding officer has been suspended. For all we know, he may be exonerated, but if found guilty, will be punished. Similarly, the brush of INS Tarkash with the jetty was due to human error, but it was no “disaster”.

Ships have been having arguments with jetties from the days of Lord Nelson, and there will be any number of such cases filed away in the archives of not only the Indian navy but navies all over the world. The grounding incidents of Sindhughosh, Betwa, Vipul, Mysore and Airavat look big taken collectively but are not uncommon individually.

A ship can be blamed for grounding if it strays from a marked channel or goes into a charted navigational hazard. But if the incident is attributable to an underwater and unidentified object not marked on the chart, perhaps as a result of silting and lack of dredging, it will be most unfair to levy any blame on the ships’ staff.

All these incidents have been or are being examined thoroughly by the navy and disciplinary or corrective action has or will be taken on completion of the boards of inquiry. In none of the cases discussed so far does the buck travel any further than the captain of the ship. 

Here, it is essential continued…

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