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Sub Fire Called India's Worst Naval Disaster In Peacetime


Hope is fading for any survivors to be found aboard an Indian submarine that sank at port in Mumbai. An 18-man crew was aboard. A massive explosion ripped through the boat as it sat at the naval docks.

As NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from New Delhi, it's being called India's worst naval disaster in peacetime.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Indian authorities said by early this evening, divers had managed to pry open the main hatch of the submarine but found no signs of survivors in the boat that sank in the monsoon-churned waters. Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi said three officers and 15 sailors were inside the INS Sindhurakshak when explosions engulfed the sub, igniting a fire that lit up Mumbai's night sky. While we hope for the best, we are prepared for the worst, the admiral said.

The explosions could be heard for miles across south Mumbai, where the high-security naval dock is located. Naval officials said the explosions took place in the forward section of the sub where highly-explosive weapons were stored.

An inquiry has been ordered into the cause of the disaster that shrinks India's fleet of subs to 14. The navy chief said all possibilities have to be considered, but sabotage is probably the last possibility.

The disaster spoiled a week of milestones for the Indian navy that launched its first locally-built aircraft carrier, part of a campaign to strengthen naval presence in the Indian Ocean and counter growing Chinese naval power.

Defense analysts say the incident occurred at a time when India is facing a shortage of submarines because of obsolescence. The Russian-built sub destroyed today was 16 years old. It had just undergone a two-year refitting in a Russian shipyard, after the boat had been damaged by an earlier fire.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.