Indian navy recovers bodies of four submariners following Mumbai explosions

Navy says remaining 14 sailors on ‘Sindhurakshak’ unlikely to have survived

Indian navy divers yesterday recovered four badly burned bodies of sailors who were trapped inside a submarine belonging to it that sank earlier this week in Mumbai’s naval dockyard following two onboard explosions.

A navy spokesman said it was doubtful whether any of the remaining 14 sailors, including three officers, had survived the blast which sank the Russian-built INS Sindhurakshak Kilo-class submarine early on Wednesday morning.

The navy also released the names of all 18 sailors and has contacted their families.

“The state of the four bodies and conditions within the submarine leads to the firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely” a naval spokesman said in Mumbai.


DNA tests
The recovered bodies were badly disfigured due to severe burns and could be identified only through DNA tests, he said. The navy said it would continue to search of the largely submerged submarine until all the bodies had been recovered or it could confirm "with finality" that no more remained to be found.

The 16-year-old submarine, which returned from Russia in April after an upgrade, was rocked by two explosions in its torpedo compartment which sent huge fireballs into the air.

Searching for survivors trapped in the submarine’s mangled, water-filled compartments was made more difficult because the heat generated by the blast had melted many of the hatch doors, sealing them shut. Divers worked in darkness in oily, muddy water inside the vessel and despite using powerful lamps visibility was close to zero.

The navy’s focus remains on accessing all of the submarine’s compartments before attempting to refloat the vessel, possibly with the help of a Dutch salvage company. Experts said initial reports indicated it was unlikely the submarine could be repaired and become operational again.

An inquiry has been set up to determine the explosions’ cause. The navy said it will be completed in four weeks.

Russian experts involved in the upgrade are expected to join the investigation. The accident has focused attention on the ageing fleet of 13 submarines as the navy spends billions of dollars on aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to counter the rise of the Chinese navy in the region.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi