MOSCOW, August 14 (RIA Novosti) — Several sailors have been killed among the 18, including three officers, feared trapped inside a Russian-built Indian Navy submarine that caught fire and sank after a blast on board in the port of Mumbai, the Navy said Wednesday.
The incident has claimed the lives of several sailors, Indian Defense Minister AK Anthony said, but could not specify how many, AFP reported.
Several sailors on board the INS Sindhurakshak managed to jump from the boat and escape the ensuing fire, after the explosion rocked the Kilo-class (Project 877 EKM) diesel-electric submarine just after midnight local time, according to Indian media reports.
"There are some people who are trapped on board, we are in the process of trying to rescue them, we suspect it to be in the range of 18," a navy spokesman said, the Times of India reported.
The vessel was “fully-armed” at the time of the incident and the fire caused explosions among the torpedoes and missiles on board, local television station NDTV reported, quoting Indian Defense Ministry sources as saying.
“The blast took place in the weapons compartment,” a defense source told the channel.
The fire was brought under control at around 3 a.m. local time, the paper said, after local fire-fighters attended the scene of the incident.
"The submarine has submerged at her berth with only a portion [of the hull] visible above the surface," the navy said in a statement.
A rescue operation is underway, and the naval authorities have launched an investigation into the incident.
The fire is not the first such incident on board - in 2010, a crewman died following a fire in the ship's batteries while it was in another port.
The INS Sindhurakshak (S63) returned to India from Russia in January this year after an extensive refit at the Zvezdochka shipyard that included installation of Club S long-range cruise missiles.
A group of eight employees from Russia’s Zvezdochka shipyard, which refitted the boat, is in Mumbai, but the yard is not in contact with them, it said Wednesday morning. None of them were onboard the vessel during the incident, the yard said.
“A group of eight Zvezdochka workers are in India now we cannot reach them right now. There is no information yet about what happened,” a Zvezdochka spokesman said.
The Sindhurakshak was laid down in one of Russia's oldest shipyards, the Admiralty Wherf yard in St Petersburg in 1995. It was launched in 1997 and delivered in December that year. The vessel displaces 2,300 tons (surfaced), carries 52 crew, has a top speed of 19 knots and maximum diving depth of 300 meters. The Indian Navy operates ten Kilo-class boats, a type also operated by the navies of China, Russia and several other nations.
Updated at 11:15 with new headline and lead and further details including Defense Minister's comments and details of blast among weapons on board