NEW DELHI. August 19 (RIA Novosti) - The explosions that sank a Russian-built Indian Navy submarine last week were possibly caused by its weapons igniting, India’s defense minister said Monday, while Russian experts said a human error likely caused the sinking.
The INS Sindhurakshak, a Kilo-class (Project 877 EKM) diesel-electric boat, sank at its moorings in the port of Mumbai on August 14 after a series of blasts devastated the vessel and triggered a fire. Six bodies have been found on board the sunken boat so far while the search continues for another 12 crew members who the navy says are almost certainly dead.
"Preliminary investigations indicate that the explosion was due to the possible ignition of armament,” aboard the INS Sindurakshak, Defense Minister A. K. Antony said, the Deccan Herald reported. “The cause of ignition is, however, yet to be established. Forensic examination would throw more light into the possible cause of ignition," he added.
The Indian Navy has ordered checks on weapon-related safety systems on all its submarines, Antony said Monday.
The Sindhurakshak returned to Indian Navy surface in January following a refit at Russia’s Zvezdochka shipyard which included installation of 3M-54 Club-S cruise missiles and their associated fire-control systems and launchers, the yard said previously.
The boat successfully fired Club-S missiles last December in post-refit sea trials off northern Russia, according to Russian media reports.
That refit followed a fatal fire in 2010 that killed a crewman. An Indian Navy investigation said that incident was caused by a defective battery, the Hindustan Times reported.
Meanwhile, Russian experts believe human error - or “mishandling of equipment” - could have caused the blast on the boat last week, The Times of India has reported.
A team of Russian experts visiting Mumbai have ruled out “technical error or sabotage” as the cause of the accident, the report said. "The experts raised the possibility of mishandling of equipment as the reason" for the disaster, the newspaper said citing an unnamed source.
The source claimed there was no chance that the accident was caused by a technical fault as the submarine is checked thoroughly - "also through computers" - before it goes to sea. The boat was due to set out on patrol on August 14, the paper said.
While the paper did not say where the Russian experts were from, a team of engineers from the Zvezdochka shipyard was in Mumbai last week prior to the accident as part of its post-refit handover, the shipyard said.
Zvezdochka says its experts in India have not been invited by the Indian Navy to take part in the investigation into the boat’s sinking.
“The Indian side has not yet contacted us with a request for our group’s specialists to take part in finding out why this accident happened,” a Zvezdochka spokesman told RIA Novosti Monday.
The boat had sailed 15,000 miles after the refit and the Indians “had not expressed any complaints about the submarine’s condition” afterward, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said last week.
The final cause of the accident is likely to be found only after the boat is raised and drained, Antony said, adding that the navy was in discussion with salvage agencies about a possible recovery operation.
"There is also an offer of help from Russia, where the refit and upgrade of the submarine had been undertaken," he said, the Deccan Herald reported.
The boat is currently on the bottom in Mumbai harbor with only the top of its conning tower and masts visible.
Updated with new headline and lead and detail throughout about Indian Defense Minister's remarks