MUMBAI: Indian divers and engineers battled on Thursday to refloat a submarine that exploded with 18 crewmen on board, as the 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, sank after it was engulfed by a fireball that lit up the night sky at a Mumbai dock early on Wednesday.
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 defense capabilities as it seeks to counter a military build-up by increasingly assertive China.
Divers had opened the main hatch and water was being pumped out to raise the diesel-powered vessel, which is lying in shallow water, officials said. Part of the stricken submarine protruded out of the water.
Eighteen sailors were on board the submarine at the time of fire while three sailors who were on the outside of the ship 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 modernizing 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.