Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Strange Case of a Naval Court Martial, ‘Hero’ Under Trial

NEW DELHI: A year ago when cables of submarine INS Sindhuratna, with 94 officers and sailors on board smoked and melted under water during final trials, releasing black viscous smoke, the bravery of the young commanding officer, Sandip Sinha, was lauded by many retired and serving officers. His presence of mind and quick impulses led to saving 92 men on board from asphyxiation when carbon monoxide engulfed the submarine that was going through final trials after a Rs 200 crore refit. 
Unfortunately, two young officers Lt Cdr Kapish Muwal and Lt Manorajan Kumar could not come out of their cabin right above the Battery Room and died after inhaling the gas. Though it was officially announced a day later their bodies were found by the commanding officer as he personally evacuated seven officers and sailors who had fainted inside and had to be physically carried out. In the process he had a near miss with death as he had inhaled plenty of poisonous gases and was in critical state for a few days in the Naval Hospital. Muwal and Kumar might have survived had there been new and modern breathing equipment available. 

The faulty cable that smoked out black gas was not changed in the Rs 200 crore-plus refit. The Navy has no specifications for the cable as the Russians never shared it and here nobody bothered. It is pertinent to remember that this submarine was commissioned in 1988! 

The CO of the submarine saved 92 lives (Commodore SK Kapoor, incharge of the final trials was on board with his 15 member team when the accident took place) and they were the first to leave the sub. Naval sources say that along with black smoke the battery levels showed high levels of hydrogen, No one could identify the black smoke and contrary to a perception created by early media reports after the accident there had been no fire. The CO used his judgement and had the presence of mind to get 92 people evacuated within four minutes.The power supply was switched off to stop the sub from exploding and he personally saved people by going in through the hatch and pulling out men who had fainted, and taking them to the top of the deck. 

He is now being court martialed for having saved 92 people. The Board says why did he use his judgement and not follow the drill?? Had he followed the drill and stayed under water, sources said, would have compounded the tragedy manifold. The breathing equipment was being shared by submarines as for over 10 years no breathing equipment had been purchased by the defence ministry. This has not changed today. 

Why should young officers sacrifice their lives and suffer due to bureaucratic failure and, failure of the the defence minister AK Antony, for not having sanctioned money for repairs and allowing ships and submarines to be cannibalized? 

Why are defence ministry bureaucrats not punished for their failure to sanction money for spare parts and equipment? Why does every ministry officer believe that the request for spare parts is an unnecessary demand? How can an ungrateful nation expect young men and women to join the armed forces, in particular join a submarine and play with his life? Sinha’s court martial does not look at what were the reasons behind the accident but, in a strange travesty of justice really focuses on why did he save so many lives?


No comments:

Post a Comment