India works to salvage sub after blast

Indian divers are pumping water out of a submarine that has sunk at its mooring in a Mumbai military shipyard after it exploded, with 18 sailors on board.

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India’s prime minister voiced “deep regret” over the accident which is feared to have left no survivors.

The fully armed INS Sindhurakshak, returned by its original maker Russia earlier this year after a major refit, was engulfed by a fireball that lit up the night sky at a Mumbai dock early on Wednesday. The vessel then sank.

The disaster, considered the navy’s worst since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine in 1971, has cast a long shadow over India’s military capabilities as it seeks to counter a build-up by increasingly assertive China.

Divers had opened the main hatch and were pumping out water on Thursday to raise the diesel-powered vessel, which is lying in shallow water, officials said. Part of the stricken submarine protruded out of the water.

“So far we have not found any survivors but we have not gone through the entire boat yet. Also we have not sighted any bodies in the area searched,” a senior navy official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Separately, a top defence ministry official, who asked not to be quoted, told AFP that the vessel had suffered “very, very extensive damage”.

“The dewatering of the submarine is on,” the official said.

Three sailors who were on the outside of the vessel managed to leap to safety.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the nation in the traditional Independence Day speech at the Red Fort monument in Delhi, voiced sorrow over the tragedy, which marked a major setback for the rapidly modernising navy.

“We have deep regret that we lost the submarine INS Sindhurakshak in an accident. Eighteen brave sailors are feared to have been martyred,” he said.

“The accident is all the more painful because the navy had recently achieved two major successes in the form of its first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, and the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant,” Singh said.

In recent days India launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier and began sea trials for the first Indian-made nuclear submarine, trumpeted as a “giant stride” for the country.

Newspapers lamented the loss of the submarine on their front pages. “Navy Catastrophe”, said the Indian Express in a headline. “Defender of the seas meets fiery end”, said The Hindustan Times.

The Times of India called it the country’s “worst peacetime disaster”.

The world’s biggest democracy has been expanding its armed forces to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era weaponry and respond to what many in India perceive as a growing threat from regional rival China.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony described it as the “greatest tragedy in recent time”.

Navy chief D.K. Joshi said on Wednesday no sign of life had been detected since the submarine was engulfed by flames.

Amateur video footage showed a fireball in the forward section of the Sindhurakshak, where torpedoes and missiles were stored as well as battery units.

An inquiry board will probe the cause and look at the possibility of sabotage, but “the indicators at this point of time do not support that theory”, Joshi said.

The board is due to report its findings within a month.

Other sailors on vessels near the INS Sindhurakshak were admitted to a navy hospital in Mumbai with burns.


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