Huge explosion and fire that crippled an Indian navy submarine in its home port of Mumbai killed at least some of the 18 sailors aboard, the country’s defence minister said.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony gave no other details but said he felt sad about the loss of lives.
“It’s a loss to all of us. It’s a tragedy,” Antony told reporters before leaving for Mumbai to assess the situation.
Local TV news station Headlines Today showed video of the explosion on the diesel-powered submarine, apparently filmed by a bystander. An enormous ball of red and yellow fire rose hundreds of feet into the air.
One man standing outside the dockyard who declined to give his name said he heard a sound like a rocket or jet engine, then a blast. Another witness said the sky turned red after the explosion. Nearly a dozen fire engines rushed to the dockyard to douse the fire.
The fire was extinguished in about two hours, but a navy official said it was unclear how many sailors were killed or injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The official said that when the blast occurred, some sailors of other nearby units jumped into the sea in panic. He says some were injured and taken to hospital.
Afterward, the sub was nearly submerged at its berth in the naval dockyard.
Navy spokesman Narendra Vispute said the cause of the explosion was being investigated.
The 16-year-old Russian-made submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, had recently returned from Russia after undergoing an overhaul and upgrade, Rahul Bedi, an analyst for the independent Jane’s Information Group, said.
Last year, India acquired a Russian Nerpa nuclear submarine for its navy on a 10-year lease from Russia at a total cost of nearly $1 billion.
On Saturday, India activated the atomic reactor on its first indigenously designed and built nuclear submarine, which the navy could deploy in the next two years.
India has steadily built up its naval capabilities in recent years, spurred by its rivalry with neighbouring China.