Assisting their Indian counterparts in investigations into the INS Jalashwa gas leakage, the US Navy has confirmed three previous hydrogen sulphide leakages on its ships, including one that left three workers dead on board aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman on July 12, 1997.
While the Court of Inquiry into the February 1 incident, that claimed six lives, is expected to be completed in a week, the 16,700-tonne landing platform dock is slated for a complete overhaul of its sewage pipes and holding tanks with the US Navy sending all the related maintenance manuals. The overhaul and refitting will be done in Vizag as soon as the troop carrier docks after the completion of the inquiry at sea this month.
Although INS Jalashwa (formerly USS Trenton) underwent a total overhaul before being handed over to India at Norfolk in September 2007, the inquiry is likely to establish whether there were any shortcomings during the maintenance upgradation of the second largest vessel of the Indian Navy. Through its defence attaches abroad, the Defence Ministry has also found out incidents of hydrogen sulphide leakages in the Australian Navy.
However, prima facie investigations have established that hydrogen sulphide and methane gas leaked from sewage pipes below the onboard gymnasium. Although it has not been conclusively established, there are strong indications that the gas gauge aboard the ship malfunctioned and personnel who went down to repair or reset it were the first ones to fall prey to the leakage. The only saving grace was that the ship did not catch fire. Hydrogen Sulphide is an extremely corrosive gas that attacks the nervous system and causes death within minutes if the exposure is more than 350 parts per million.
Significantly, all Indian Navy warships except for the US-built INS Jalashwa have in-built sewage treatment plants (STPs) that discharge secondary or tertiary treated water into the sea. However, like other US Navy ships, INS Jalashwa only has holding tanks for sewage that is pumped out to specially designed barges for sewage treatment after the ship docks at the port. In short, the Indian Navy is not used to this method of sewage treatment.
The incident has sent shockwaves within both the navies as the ship was refitted and sold to India just last year after a complete overhaul that cost $39.5 million. The US Navy has also informed their Indian counterparts that two incidents of gas leakage had taken place on its facilities on-shore, while three ship workers of Newport Shipbuilding lost their lives due to hydrogen sulphide gas leakage in the run-up to the commissioning of USS Harry S Truman.
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