Indian submarine explodes with 18 on board

FIRE AT THE DOCK. This frame grab taken from video footage provided by Indian broadcaster NWS early on August 14, 2013, shows a fire at the Indian Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. AFP/NWS

FIRE AT THE DOCK. This frame grab taken from video footage provided by Indian broadcaster NWS early on August 14, 2013, shows a fire at the Indian Naval Dockyard in Mumbai.

AFP/NWS

MUMBAI, India (2nd UPDATE) - A recently refurbished Indian submarine exploded and sank early Wednesday, August 14, in a dock in Mumbai, leaving rescuers scrambling to find 18 sailors who were on board.

The diesel-electric INS Sindhurakshak had been returned by Russia less than a year ago after a major refit and was totally submerged after the accident, navy sources said.

The NDTV channel showed grainy and shaky footage of the fierce explosion which lit up the sky at the naval dockyard shortly after midnight.

"The cause of the explosion is not known. We are searching for the 18 personnel," navy spokesman Narendra Kumar Vispute told AFP.

He said divers had been deployed once the flames were extinguished and they were hunting for the men on board.

"There are no reports of casualties at the moment," he added.

The navy ordered a board of enquiry into the explosion.

The accident comes just days after New Delhi trumpeted the launch of its first domestically produced aircraft carrier and the start of sea trials for its first Indian-made nuclear submarine.

In February 2010, the INS Sindhurakshak also suffered a fire while docked in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh state, killing a 24-year-old sailor and leaving 2 other crew members with burns.

There were fears that the explosion Wednesday might have damaged other navy vessels in the Mumbai dockyard, a colonial-era facility with civilian and military sections that employs more than 10,000 people.

Rahul Bedi, a defense expert with IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, told Agence France-Presse the submarine was commissioned from Russia in 1997 and lacked some modern safety equipment common to newer vessels.

"They don't have escape routes in the event of accidents unlike some of the modern submarines," he said.

"The major concern is of India's submarine capability depreciating fast. I think out of 14 diesel-electric subs, 12 are operational," he said.

"That's very inadequate and a big operational drawback for the Indian navy," he added.

India has been expanding its armed forces rapidly to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era weaponry and react to perceived threats from regional rival China.

The Mumbai dockyard, which is a restricted area, was closed to media. - Rappler.com