18 sailors have probably died in an explosion aboard a Russian-built submarine operated by the Indian Navy in Mumbai this morning.
The blast was reportedly caused by the submarine’s torpedo compartment.
"Just short of midnight, there were two rapid and near- simultaneous major explosions on board the submarine, which resulted in a major and rapid spread of fire on board," said D.K. Joshi, the chief Admiral of the Indian Navy. "It is some of the ordinance on board that seem to have exploded."
After the blast, the submarine caught fire, which took local fire-fighters two hours to extinguish. Afterwards, the vessel has been left half submerged at its berth in the naval dockyard in Mumbai.
In the afternoon, divers tried to enter the submarine but gave up their efforts as it was filled with muddy water.
"Whilst we hope for the best, we are prepared for the worst ... There is a possibility, however remote it could be, of an air pocket. There is a possibility, however remote it might be, of someone having grabbed a breathing set," Admiral Joshi said about the chances of any of the crew members surviving 12 hours after the explosion.
Several witnesses observed the explosion this morning and a local TV news station Headlines Today even managed to acquire and have broadcasted a video of the explosion filmed by a bystander.
The 16-year-old INS Sindhurakshak diesel-powered vessel has returned to service only recently after a major two-year upgrade and refurbishing work in Russia.
India sent the submarine to be repaired by its Russian manufacturers in 2010 after it suffered an explosion due to a leaky hydrogen valve in the battery compartment. The 2010 explosion killed one sailor and injured two others.
Russian ship repair company Zvyozdochka, who had worked on the vessel, said the blast was unrelated to the repair work.
"According to the members of our warrantee group, the vessel was functioning properly and had no technical faults at the time of the incident," a spokesman said.
Speaking after the accident, India’s defence minister A K Antony described the explosion as one of the greatest tragedies of recent times.
"I feel sad ... about those navy personnel who lost their lives in the service of the country," he told reporters outside the parliament in New Delhi.
INS Sindhurakshak was one of India’s 14 diesel-powered submarines, all of which have been said to be rather obsolete.
Indian Navy also operates two nuclear submarines - a Russian-built Nerpa submarine leased for a ten-year period from Russia and a domestically designed and built submarine that had its nuclear reactor activated this week.