Navy's ageing ship carried more crew than normal

Vessel was returning after torpedo firing experiments at night

Navy's ageing ship carried more crew than normal

It was in the evening and the harbour was 65 km (35 nautical miles) away, when the captain and crew of Navy’s Torpedo Recovery Vessel-A72 suddenly realised that water was gushing inside the boat.

It was a full moon night, but the boat’s top deck was dark as being a warship there are few light sources on the top.

To make matters worse, the boat had 29 people, which is more than double of its normal complement of 13 crew. Six defence scientists were on board as they were returning to Visakhapatnam after carrying out field experiments related to torpedo firing.

Within minutes, everybody panicked and May Day signals were sent out.
Another naval vessel INS Ranjit was the first to reach the spot. It was nearby because INS Ranjit fired those dummy and reusable torpedoes in the day, which A-72 picked up. The ship accomplished its task and was cruising back to the port, when it gave in.

The breach was reported at 6:30 pm and by 8 pm hours, the vessel sank to a depth of 370 mt. One sailor, Petty Officer James Jacob, lost his life whereas four more including one officer, two divers and a crew are still missing.

The rest including the commanding officer Lt Cdr Rohan Kulkarni and scientists from DRDO’s Naval Science and Technology Laboratory, Visakhapatnam were rescued by INS Ranjit. “As per the initial reports, the probable reason for sinking of the vessel seems to be ingress of sea-water (flooding) in the engine room and aft steering compartment of the vessel. A Board of Inquiry headed by a Captain has been constituted to investigate into the circumstances leading to the mishap,” said Capt D K Sharma, spokesperson of Indian Navy.

Propeller shaft seals

The suspicion is that seals of the two propeller shafts may have been broken. The shafts connect the propellers to the engine.

A massive search and rescue operation involving nine ships and four types of aircraft with night vision capability is on to look for the missing personnel. The search area now lies south east of Visakhapatnam but is expanding continuously with every passing minute.

On an official tour aboard, Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan, is returning to India, cutting short his trip. The chief is scheduled to reach Visakhapatnam on Sunday.
Commissioned in 1983, the ship underwent 27 refits and three mid-life upgrades. The last mid-life upgrade concluded in June 2013.

There was also a short refit in April, 2014. Navy had only three such ships all commissioned in the early 1980s. “It’s a 30-year-old ship whose hull was spoiled. It will not work as good as a new ship. Ageing is one of the problems of the Navy,” Vice Admiral (rtd) Shekhar Sinha, former chief of the Western Naval Command told Deccan Herald.

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