A file photo of the three Kolkata-class destroyers being built at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Mar 14
Continuing the run of mishaps that has plagued Indian naval warships of late, one officer was killed and two workers briefly hospitalised on Friday after an accident on board INS Kolkata, the navy’s newest warship being constructed at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).
The deceased officer has been identified as Commander Kuntal Wadhwa.
On February 26, the Indian Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi had resigned, taking “moral responsibility” for a spate of recent accidents. His resignation came after the deaths of two officers that morning in a fire on the naval submarine, INS Sindhuratna. On August 14, 2013, a massive explosion on board another submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, killed 18 crewmembers and sunk the vessel.
MDL, not the navy, will answer for Friday’s fatal accident on board INS Kolkata. However, with operational safety on naval vessels squarely in the public eye, the navy is gearing for more criticism.
INS Kolkata is the first of three destroyers being built under the so-called Project 15A. The warship was undergoing trials of its fire fighting system, when a gas cylinder filled with fire-inhibiting carbon dioxide accidently discharged its gas, suffocating the personnel in that compartment. While two MDL workers were discharged after treatment, Commander Wadhwa suffocated to death.
In an official release, MDL characterised the accident as “a malfunction in its Carbon Dioxide unit, leading to gas leakage.”
MDL sources say the fire-fighting trials were part of a series of trials being conducted on INS Kolkata’s nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) defensive systems. A team from INS Shivaji, the navy’s engineering hub in Lonavla, was supervising the trials in the Mumbai Port Trust.
The fire fighting system, which is a part of the NBC system, includes sensors in every compartment of the vessel that contains machinery and, therefore, runs the risk of fire. The system also includes carbon dioxide gas cylinders, which discharge the gas when a sensor warns of a fire. On Thursday, when smaller compartments were being checked, the system worked perfectly, say MDL officials. But on Friday, a bank of cylinders discharged unexpectedly, causing the tragedy.
Senior MDL officials tell Business Standard that, notwithstanding the tragedy of a life lost, INS Kolkata remains on track to be delivered to the navy by the end of this month. The destroyer will be formally commissioned into the navy as soon as Defence Minister AK Antony can travel to Mumbai for the ceremony.
The 6,800-tonne INS Kolkata, and its sister ships, INS Kochi and INS Chennai, will be the navy’s most lethal, capable and high-tech warships. They were due to
be commissioned from Aug 2011 to Aug 2013, one vessel each year. However, Project 15A is running three years late, largely because of delays in developing the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which the DRDO and Israel Aerospace Industries are co-developing.
The navy’s Chief of Materials (COM), who briefed Business Standard earlier, says that Project 15A has cost Rs 11,662 crore. That means INS Kolkata and its sister ships will each come in at just under Rs 4,000 crore, a fraction of what would have been paid for a similar warship bought overseas.
The COM claims that the indigenous component of Project 15A is 60 per cent. The fire-fighting system that malfunctioned was developed and supplied by a Mumbai-based company.
That sinking feeling: a litany of warship accidents
January 2011 : INS Vindhyagiri, a frigate, sinks near Mumbai after ramming a freighter
August 2013 : INS Sindhurakshak, a Kilo-class submarine, sinks and 18 crewmembers killed after a still-unexplained explosion on board
December 2013: INS Konkan, a minesweeper, suffers extensive interior damage after a fire on board.
December 2013: INS Talwar, a stealth frigate, rams and sinks a fishing vessel off Maharashtra. The captain is relieved of command.
January 2014 : INS Airawat, a tank landing ship (LST) runs aground in Visakhapatnam, damaging its propellers. The captain is relieved of command.
February 2014: INS Sindhuratna, a Kilo-class submarine, suffers a fire on board that kills two officers and injured 7 sailors.