POST: Why Mumbai leaves our blue-water Navy red-faced?


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Indian Navy’s enemies could not have asked for more. The force is now losing its premier assets not to wear and tear or on deployment, but very much inside the secure confines of its biggest base, Mumbai. The latest loss of the INS Sindhurakshak, a kilo-class submarine, is the second such among its frontline platforms in under three years. With this, not only has the Navy’s credibility and capacity to absorb bigger, costlier platforms hit its nadir but also has effectively put a question mark over the environs of its premier base in the murky waters around Mumbai.

Dumbstruck over INS Vindhyagiri

At 1637hrs, on January 30, 2011, the Navy suffered what was until the latest episode, its single biggest loss during peacetime. Frontline frigate, the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vindhyagiri capsized within harbor after colliding with merchant vessel MV Nordlake, rendering it junk-worthy.

Documents of the case, accessed by this correspondent showed that the conservative loss suffered by the Indian Navy, when its warship sank, was above Rs.1058 crore. This cost included that of ship’s hull, specialised equipment for anti-submarine operations, radar, communication, electronics, armaments etc. In fact, the Vindhyagiri was also modified by the navy to handle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operations. Subsequently, the Navy approached the court seeking damages from the company owning the MV Nordlake of the above-mentioned amount but more than two years hence, it has received only around Rs.30 crore even as the matter remains in the court.

On February 2, 2011, an ‘Order for Convening a Board of Inquiry’ was issued by the Western Naval Command (WNC). It was tasked to ‘hold a full and careful investigation into the circumstances leading to the incident of collision’, ‘contain recommendations on the remedial measures’ apart from finding out the blame-worthy actors. However, the Navy has steadfastly refused discussing the its outcome. “Navy wants to brush this episode under the carpet. Forget individuals but there is little that has been done even in terms of bringing about systemic changes,” said an officer aware of the case. In fact, a query seeking to understand the lessons learnt from the Vindhyagiri loss, from this correspondent to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Indian Navy, went unanswered.

Tension within premier naval dockyard    

What was termed as the oldest and the best yard facility of the Navy, the naval dockyard in Mumbai is today a battleground. On an issue where the Navy and its dockyard employees who maintain its assets have a common goal, the two are divided with the quality of workmanship and maintenance of ships taking a hit.

“Even though on one hand the requirements of the navy have increased, there is a cap since last year on the amount of Over Time (OT) that a dockyard technician can do. So, while we are not allowed to do what we are trained for, the Navy brings in private contractors with little or no skilled labour to do,” said a dockyard employee. Naval officers confirmed to this correspondent that there has indeed been a slippage and the Navy is paying a price for it. “These workers are priceless assets and denying them work on our ships is denying yourself of quality,” said a naval officer.

Several unions among the dockyard workers, in the last few years, have repeatedly been protesting, holding agitations and even blocking work but to no avail. Despite repeated calls and messages to the office of Admiral Superintendent of Dockyard (ASD), a Rear Admiral rank officer, there was no response.

Expert opinions

‘There is a compromise of safety and security taking place inside the naval dockyard. Such incidents did not happen with such frequency earlier. Contractors are being allowed to operate all round across ships. Fact is these people are untrained. And that is what is now showing – Ashok Kabade, former technician in Naval Dockyard

‘Why are all these accidents taking place now? I have no doubt it is because of allowing unskilled labour to handle sensitive weapons, navigation systems etc. Our ships are getting affected. There is also a security threat in allowing such an influx.’ – SK Gorhe, former Supervisor in Mumbai Naval Dockyard

“I agree that the dockyard employees and only them should be allowed into the core areas of our ships. Mumbai is indeed stretching it because of its creaking infrastructure. Way back in the 80s, the then Prime Minister had asked the Bombay Port Trust to reduce its presence since the Jawaharlal Nehru Port was coming up across the harbor. But that has not happened. The navy, has built Karwar but the movement to that place has not been as quick as it should have been for a variety of reasons. Our dockyard workers who are agitating come to work from far flung places. All of this has consequences that we are now witnessing.” – Vice Admiral (retd) IC Rao, former ASD Mumbai dockyard.

Number of officers and sailors onboard: 21 and 202 respectively

Navy’s loss:

Logistics Rs.66 lakhs
Ship structure Rs.410 crores
UAV assets Rs.30 crores
Aviation equipment Rs.33 lakhs
Anti-Submarine Warfare Rs.15 crore
Gunnery items Rs.80 crores
Engineering items Rs.310 crores
Commmunication items Rs.45 crores
Radar items Rs.26 crores
Electrical items Rs.130 crores
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