Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tale of an underwater tragedy



Media reports had incorrectly speculated that expired batteries caused the fire on board INS Sindhuratna

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Mar 14

The navy announced today that the fire that killed two officers and injured seven sailors on board the submarine, INS Sindhuratna, on February 26, did not originate from the submarine’s batteries, but probably from cables that caught fire in the sailors’ living section. The navy also clarified that the submarine’s batteries were within their specified service life.

Media reporting and commentary in both print and television has speculated that expired batteries caused the fire on board the Russian Kilo-class submarine. Calls for the defence minister’s resignation have blamed him for procurement delays that forced submariners to operate with expired batteries.

The navy conclusively denied that on Tuesday.

“The batteries presently installed on Sindhuratna have till date completed about 113 cycles as against 200 cycles available for exploitation. Further, the life of the batteries is valid by date (stipulated life of four years, by OEM). The batteries which were being exploited by Sindhuratna at the time of incident were therefore operationally in-date,” the navy stated on Tuesday.

Business Standard has learned that INS Sindhuratna was functioning with batteries that belonged to a sister submarine, INS Sindhukesari, which was undergoing a maintenance refit in the dockyard. Those batteries were cleared to operate till May 2014.

The navy has also announced, based on a “preliminary assessment of damage” that the fire was probably caused by cables that caught fire on the mess deck, which is located one floor above the “battery pit”, where batteries are stored.

This assessment is based on an examination by specialists of the Western Naval Command, after the Sindhuratna returned to Mumbai on February 27, a day after the fire.

“Preliminary inspection of third compartment thus indicates that the fire has emanated from the third compartment mess deck (sailor’s accommodation),” says the navy.

The statement goes on to say: “Preliminary inspection of the battery pit and the batteries therein has been undertaken and no damage has been observed thus far. Further, there are no signs to indicate any initiation of fire from the battery pit. The batteries appear to be clear of any damage and would now be put through normal checks and maintenance routines prior (to) operationalisation.”

According to senior naval officers who reconstructed the emergency for Business Standard, it began when sailors in the sleeping compartment saw smoke emanating from cables running along the wall, and raised the alarm. Within seconds, the billowing smoke had choked a number of sailors, since the fire was consuming precious oxygen from the submarine’s restricted internal space.

Two electrical officers in another compartment, Lieutenant Commander Kapish Muwal and Lieutenant Commander Manoranjan Kumar, rushed to the sailors compartment. After quickly establishing that the battery compartment underneath was in order, they began evacuating the choking sailors.

With the smoke spreading and threatening to consume all the oxygen, which would have killed the entire crew and caused the loss of the submarine, the captain ordered the affected compartment to be sealed in order to localize the fire. That was successfully done, but a quick head count found the two officers were missing.

Repeated attempts were made to open the smoke-filled compartment and rescue the officers if they were still alive, but each time the door was opened the cables reignited. Eventually, the two officers’ bodies were discovered when the compartment was opened in Mumbai.

It remains unclear why the cables caught fire. The navy has set up a Board of Inquiry, headed by a two-star admiral to establish the cause.

Senior naval officers are deeply concerned that a witch-hunt to pin the blame on someone would create a “zero-error syndrome”, where warship captains are reluctant to take even the slightest risk.

These officers say the navy operates over 160 ships, typically clocking over 12,000 ship days at sea every year, in various waters and weather.

They point out that, in these demanding conditions, some mishaps are to be expected for reasons varying from force majeure or operational hazard, to material failure, equipment malfunction or human error.

“Ships sometimes collide; desks never do,” said a well-regarded admiral tersely. 

15 comments:

parbat88 said...

All are good in paper but failed on ground. Need the complete overhaul of Indian system. So SoniaG sud call Antony BATTERY CHOR and dismiss him and PM who is keeping quite.

Anonymous said...

"With the smoke spreading and threatening to consume all the oxygen, which would have killed the entire crew and caused the loss of the submarine, the captain ordered the affected compartment to be sealed in order to localize the fire. That was successfully done, but a quick head count found the two officers were missing."

THE SOP FOR EVACUATION INCLUDES A HEAD COUNT PRIOR TO APPLICATION OF CFSS SYSTEM. WHY WAS HEAD COUNT TAKEN AFTER APPLYING FREON ?

Repeated attempts were made to open the smoke-filled compartment and rescue the officers if they were still alive, but each time the door was opened the cables reignited. Eventually, the two officers’ bodies were discovered when the compartment was opened in Mumbai."

- TOTALLY DISPUTABLE FACTS PRESENTED. EVERY TIME THE HATCHES WERE OPENED, THE CABLES RE-IGNITED ?? WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF DEATH ESTABLISHED BY POST-MORTEM ?

CHANDRA PRAKASH Joshi said...

1.Not very convincing. Looks like a cover up op is already on .
2.Firstly. Sindhuratna was under water and going through the drill as part of an inspection by CMDE I/C Submarines , WNC to assess Fitness after Refit . So why was it operating on loaned batteries from another submarine undergoing Refit ?
3. Secondly. It is said here that a BOI has been constituted to into cause of fire ( cable fire ?) . If so then how come this detailed outcome report has ben published in business standard by AJ ? Is it not a selective premature leak ?
4. Thirdly. The electrical officers had already said that they will be sailing on TICKING TIME BOMB ? Surely he did not mean a rotten or exposed electrical wiring cable in Mess Cabin ?

Anonymous said...

I hope the attitude of the senior officer/s you quote, which is, bad things just happen when operating a vessel - we just have to live with it, is not the general attitude of the Indian navy. If it is then there are bigger problems in the Navy.

Their attitude should be - not on my vessel, not under my watch. What happened is unacceptable.

Cujo

Parthasarathi said...

The only way to overcome this hydrogen (emitted from batteries) is AIP.(Air independent propulsion.)DRDO. is working (as usual) or sleeping on that project since long. I have a suggestion, next time onward atleast one top ranking DRDO. official or one high ranking official from MOD. should sail in these (Kilo class) submarines. Many bureaucratic problems will be solved automatically.

Prodyut said...

For a submarine to have a cable fire in peacetime is very very odd. Cable fires take place in slum lord apartments not in well designed submarines.I would think that they char before they deflagrate It may still be the batteries. Are we trying to save someone's bacon?

Ghorcharrah Gabbar said...

It still does not make sense !

Fire fighting parties on ships have self-contained breathing apparatus, installed cables are decidedly flame-resistant and 'non-smoking' or non-smouldering, the sub could have surfaced within minutes, the smoking cables would have served some warning to safety / monitoring sensors of an elaborate electrical energy management suite (or whatever it is known as) !

I don't believe the story about the heroics of the deceased Engg officers - the tale is just too routine. May God bless their souls. There is serious negligence involved - I can smell it.

Why was the Commodore (Submarines) of the Western Naval fleet on board ? Strikes me as unusual.

I hope that the Board of Inquiry gets to the bottom of it. The spiralling number of Navy accidents broke the law of averages long back.

Anonymous said...

The two reasons I can think of why cables could catch fire is:

1) A component consuming too much power. A cable can only handle so much AMP before it starts heating up, melts or catches fire. This is common. This is what I suspect.

2) The cables were touching a hot component in the surrounding which caused an ignition.

Either way, if the systems had been working fine with the existing hardware then there is little change of a technical error. Maybe the team should keep their option open. Two submarine mishaps in one year is susceptible.

Anonymous said...

Risks are for men... INS... not for sissies...

Anonymous said...

BARTER FOR SOMETHING TO SAVE SOMETHING.THE GUY RESPONSIBLE IS NOW BREATHING EASY AND HAS RESUMED HIS ANTICS AGAIN.

Anonymous said...

All bunkum theories floating around to save the skin of congis incompetence. Antony should resign if he has any shame left. Submariners were not at all happy to even enter the ship. They were forced to operate a 25 year old sub.

Anonymous said...

sissies hav... zero-error syndromes...

Anonymous said...

Don't accept the rationale given to try save the persons responsible. It's common knowledge that the armed forces have been severely hampered by the lack of equipment, spares and war fighting material. Something else is the motive for writing this piece

Mazo said...

Two good and brave naval officers are dead and dozens more sailors injured and the the NAVY is worried about covering its own posterior and worried about things like "zero-error syndrome" ??

This describes the depth of the problem in the service. When their own officers die - they see it as an inconvenience to their career prospects and a bother instead of a serious issue that affects them ALL.

Sad that these people are so defensive and so blind they can't make out the depth of their mistake or their misguided priorities.

raj said...

It is criminal offense and defies conman sense to send 02 in no. crew members in smoke filled compartment to assess cause of smoke without PPE that is self contained breathing apparatus which enables wearer to survive for more than half an hour in smoke filled compartment/toxic atmosphere/freon filled compartment which is enough to surface the submarine,ventilate the 3rd compartment and rescue trapped crew after carrying out risk assessment.It seems people in charge screwed up big time and trying to cover up their blunder.As I worked more than 10 years on board identical submarine I know first hand that instead of safety culture commanders follow cow boy culture which is driven by rank driven egoist mindset.Even healthy dissent is labelled as defiance.
Raj