, MUMBAI, Aug 15 – Indian divers and engineers struggled Thursday to salvage 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 manufacturer Russia earlier this year after a major refit, went up in flames at a Mumbai dock on Wednesday and sank.
The disaster considered to be the Indian navy’s worst since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine in 1971 has cast a long shadow over the military’s capabilities.
Divers had opened the main hatch and were seeking to secure two water-tight compartments before pumping out water to raise the diesel powered vessel.
“They are attempting to empty the water that has entered the submarine and make it lighter so that it refloats,” a senior naval officer told AFP.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the nation in the traditional Independence Day speech at the Red Fort monument in Delhi, lamented the tragedy, which represents a major setback for the rapidly modernising navy.
“We have deep regret about the accident involving INS Sindhurakshak in which 18 of our brave men 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 mourned the loss of the submarine on their frontpages. “Navy Catastrophe”, said the Indian Express in a headline.