Explosions Trap Sailors on Indian Sub

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 14 2013 12:16 PM

Explosions Trap Sailors on Indian Submarine

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Fire trucks and ambulances are seen parked inside the Naval Dockyard where an Indian submarine exploded and sank, in Mumbai on August 14, 2013

Photo by Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

India is waiting with bated breath today, as at least 18 sailors are currently feared to be trapped aboard an Indian submarine docked at a naval base in Mumbai. The 16-year-old Russian-built INS Sindhurakshak (meaning "sea defender") was partially sunk after two explosions — which officials speculate were caused by an accidental detonation of the submarine's weapons — rocked the vessel early Wednesday morning.

Photographs and videos posted by witnesses show the huge white and yellow fireball, which caused a subsequent fire that blazed for several hours, delaying divers from their rescue efforts. Because the fire is believed to have swept through the submarine, many fear the men on board will be found dead. And according to India's defense minister, there are already fatalities. Here's the Los Angeles Times with more details:

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Defense Minister A.K. Antony told reporters in New Delhi that many sailors died in the incident, without providing details. “It is the greatest tragedy of recent times,” he added while en route to Mumbai to oversee the rescue and recovery operation.

The fact that Antony is being vague is being seen as a bad sign — though there's a possibility that some of the crew in the vessel could have survived. According to some reports, many sailors aboard managed to jump to safety, and earlier, Indian Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi said that there was a slight chance the men in the vessel could be alive. "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," he told a news conference.

Right now, the incident seems to have been the result of an on-board error and not an outside act, according to Indian officials. Sabotage seems unlikely, although investigation is still underway. As The Times notes, the accident is especially unfortunate, given Thursday is India’s independence day, "when armed forces are showcased for their role in building the young democracy."

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate. Slate Plus members, email her here.