Western Command senior officer under Navy fire

In the wake of a series of major and minor accidents in the last two months, the Indian Navy has reprimanded one of its senior-most officers in the Western Naval Command in Mumbai. Navy officers at headquarters, however, insist that the stern disciplinary action is not linked to those accidents.

Rear Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, commander of the western fleet – the sword arm of Indian Navy – was reprimanded last week by his superior Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, the Flag-Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command.

Though the reprimand of the Rear Admiral followed a string of accidents, Navy officers in the capital stressed they were not linked. “Yes, Rear Admiral Chawla was reprimanded; but it was not linked to accidents,” said an officer.

Navy officers are tight-lipped on the reasons behind the unusual pulling up of one of the brightest officers, who was the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence) and in charge of perspective planning at the headquarters before moving to Mumbai. Chawla was a skipper of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat and was tipped to rise high in the Navy in future.

Days prior to the disciplinary action, captains of two frontline warships – Gopal Suri, skipper of the INS Talwar and Deepak Bisht who was the commanding officer of INS Betwa – were removed from their posts. A navy spokesperson said Bisht’s removal was routine as he completed his tenure. Both ships come under the Western Naval Command. On December 23, the INS Talwar – first of the six stealth frigates Navy purchased from Russia – hit a fishing boat near the coast, sending 27 fishermen plunging into the sea. The battleship rescued them all.

Navy officials said the fishing boat was unlit and the frigate was moving closer to the coast to avoid detection by enemy submarines that operate in more than 30 metres of depth. The ship was on an operational mission. Couple of weeks later, hairline cracks were detected in the sonar dome of indigenous frigate INS Betwa. Protective cover of the sonar dome, made of a special steel and located at the bottom of the ship to detect submarines, developed the crack. Maintenance check found that the cover filled with fresh water had turned saline. Officials said the crack could have developed either due to material failure or if a foreign object crashed against the dome.

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