Mishap on Russian nuke sub raises questions about quality

November 10th, 2008 - 2:29 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 10 (IANS) The death of 20 crew members on board a Russian-built nuclear-powered submarine, which was to be delivered to the Indian Navy on a 10-year lease for training its crew, has raised questions about Moscow’s submarine building technology.In the worst disaster involving Russia’s submarine fleet since 2000, 20 people were killed and 21 injured Saturday following a gas leakage in the fore section of the Akula class attack submarine while it was undergoing trials in the Sea of Japan.

The accident, barely a week after the submarine was launched into the sea, came as the Kremlin is seeking to restore Russia’s naval reach, part of a drive to show off the country’s clout amid strained ties with the West.

Russian shipyards are almost always behind schedule. In the case of this submarine, the sea trials were set to begin in 2007. Some experts say the builders and inspectors may have felt the pressure to move expediently.

“The problem with Russian defence industry is that it uses Soviet technology and pieces of equipment made 20 years ago to make new weapons,” said a senior Indian Navy official requesting anonymity.

Construction of the Nerpa, an Akula II class attack submarine, started in 1991 but was suspended for years because of a shortage of funding, the officia said. Testing on the submarine began last month, and it submerged for the first time last week.

Partly financed by India under a deal signed with Russia in January 2004 for $650 million, the 12,000-tonne Akula class attack submarine was being built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur shipyard. It was to be commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Chakra in August 2009.

The Russian Navy has claimed that the submarine itself was not damaged in Saturday’s accident and returned to its base on Russia’s Pacific coast under its own power Sunday. According to the Russian Navy, the accident also did not pose any radiation danger.

However, the scheduled delivery of the submarine to the Indian Navy is likely to get delayed, with a wary India asking for more stringent tests.

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