INS Sindhurakshak tragedy: 200 tonnes of diesel on sunken sub spark worries of oil slick

Aug 17, 2013, 03:58 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

INS Sindhurakshak was also carrying torpedo and missile fuels, weapons, oxygen and hydrogen cylinders, batteries etc -- explosive material that puts marine ecology at risk

The INS Sindhurakshak, which exploded and sank at the naval dockyard on Wednesday, still has over 200 tonnes of diesel in its tank, apart from fuel oil, batteries and other combustible, even explosive, material.

The final act: Blinders were installed by the Navy yesterday during the salvage operation to recover bodies of the sailors who met with tragedy inside INS Sindhurakshak. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The environmental risks the situation poses are nocent. The huge chunk of mangled metal could be lethal for marine life in the area, experts warn, adding that an oil slick cannot be ruled out.

However, an anti-pollution team of Coast Guard has already taken position at the spot of the disaster to control any emerging spill.


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Rear Admiral (Retd) K Raja Menon, a submarine specialist in the Navy, who played an important role in acquiring the Kilo-class sub from Russia, told MiD DAY from Delhi that the sunken craft was powered by a diesel-electric propulsion with two 1,000 kW diesel generators and one 5,500 HP propulsion motor. All of this consumes a lot of fuel.

“Usually, it takes over 200 tonnes of diesel to charge the 400 batteries fitted in the engine. Unlike a nuclear submarine which can be underwater for days, a diesel sub needs to propel on surface for recharging batteries,” Menon said.

“Apart from the diesel on board, the submarine would have torpedo fuel, missile fuel, oxygen- and hydrogen-regenerating cylinders which are all combustible, and might leak, given the magnitude of the mishap. Since it was a peacetime disaster, the sub would not have been fully laden with torpedoes and missiles,” he said.

“The Type 877EKM has six 533 mm torpedo tubes and carries 18 heavyweight torpedoes (six in the tubes and 12 on the racks), with an automatic rapid loader. Two targets can be engaged simultaneously,” he added.

Sticky sea-tuation
Dr Jiyalal Jeshwar, senior principal scientist at National Institute of Oceanography, who has researched oil slicks along Mumbai’s coast, said there are chances of diesel and other fuels leaking out of the sunken sub into the sea. Different dispersants should be used to control oil slicks, he said. If an oil spill persists for a long time - 15 days or more - oxygen concentration in seawater is reduced, and part of the viscous liquid settles down on the seabed, affecting benthic organisms (dwelling at seabed) and killing them.

Fact file
>> INS Sindhurakashak was one of the 11 submarines, built by Russia, which got commissioned on Dec 24, 1997
>> Sindhurakshak (Type 877EKM) was designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare (ASW and ASuW)

Coast Guard keeps check on spill
The Navy has approached the western regional HQ of the Coast Guard and requested for deploying their personnel to control the oil spill. A senior Coast Guard officer said that a team of anti-pollution experts is stationed at the Naval Dockyard to check for a spill. “We have already put river boom (spill containment equipment) at 200 metres from the spot of the incident to prevent oil from the submarine from entering into the deep sea. Our team is alert 24x7 to control any untoward incident,” he said.

MPCB collects samples
Amar Durgule, sub regional officer, Mumbai 1, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, said that his team has collected two water samples of 2.5 litres each from the spot of the sunken submarine. Other than that, samples have been collected off Gateway of India, Worli, Girgaum and Juhu Chowpatty and sent for testing to the MPCB lab in Navi Mumbai.

“Entry to the Naval Dockyard is restricted but we managed to collect samples, even on Friday, since any slick beyond permissible limits can be ascertained better in specimens gathered 2 to 3 days after the incident,” he said.

“We will write to the Western Naval Command, asking for a report on pollution control methods adopted to prevent contamination. Also, the Navy will be asked to dispose of all the batteries and other contaminators from the sub in a scientific manner. We will ask for a report on it.” 

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