The chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral D K Joshi, resigned today in the wake of the latest submarine disaster. The defence ministry has accepted his resignation, and Vice Admiral Robin K Dhowan will take charge until a new Navy chief is officially appointed.
In the incident off the Mumbai coast earlier today, INS Sindhuratna was forced to surface after smoke was detected on board. Seven sailors were injured and two officers are 'missing', presumably dead.
The latest occurrence comes even as the INS Sindhurakshak disaster is fresh on people's minds. The Sindhurakshak sank off the Naval harbour in Mumbai last August, killing 18 personnel.
The Sindhuratna was 40 to 50 km off the Mumbai coast, being sea tested after a refit, when smoke was detected on board, forcing it to surface.
The senior-most submarine officer of the Western Naval Command, Commodore Commanding Submarine (West) S R Kapur was on board, and directing the other sailors in rescue operations as the submarine is being brought back to harbour.
The accident took place in the early hours of Wednesday. The injured sailors, who fell unconscious from suffocation, were airlifted to a Navy hospital in Mumbai. Reports suggest that a fire may have broken out on the vessel.
The Russian-origin Kilo Class submarine had 94 personnel on board but was carrying no weapons or ammunition, as it was in test mode.
A Western Naval Command release said the submarine was "at sea off Mumbai for routine training and workup (inspection)".
"While at sea in the early hours of Feb 26, 2014, smoke was reported in the sailors' accommodation, in compartment number three, by the submarine. Smoke was brought under control by the submarine's crew," it said.
News agency PTI cited sources to say that a leakage in the battery compartment of the submarine could have caused the smoke.
The defence ministry, clearly upset, has sought a detailed report from the Navy on the mishap, which is the 10th involving an Indian Navy warship and the third submarine mishap in the last seven months.
In August last year, Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak sank in the Mumbai harbour after an explosion on board, killing 18 sailors (See: All 18 crew feared dead in Mumbai submarine blast).
Earlier this month, an amphibious warfare vessel INS Airavat ran aground after which its commanding officer was stripped of his command duties.
At least five warship skippers have been stripped of command over the last 18 months, including J P S Virk, captain of INS Airavat, which ran aground off the Visakhapatnam coast last week.
Officials suspect that the two "unaccounted for" officers in today's mishap may have been trapped in one of the sealed compartments of the vessel.
"All specialist medical officers attended and reported that the crew is safe. Naval ships were dispatched by HQWNC (Headquarters, Western Naval Command) and are in the area to provide assistance to the submarine. Two personnel have not yet been located and all efforts are in progress to locate them," the Navy release said, adding that all other crew "are on board and safe".
Refitted and renovated in Mumbai last December, the INS Sindhuratna was on a training exercise to familiarize the crew with operations of the vessel.
The Indian Navy has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Defence Minister A K Antony earlier this month expressed concern over the accidents suffered by the navy over the past few months. He said that even one accident was "serious" for him and there was need to strictly follow standard operating procedures and draw proper lessons.