Last year in April, India’s only aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya suffered from a fire a mishap that claimed the life of one Indian sailor. The fire broke out in the engine room of the carrier when the ship was nearing Karwar.
An Indian lieutenant commander made the ultimate sacrifice while trying to douse the fire. He had got married a month before and succumbed later in a hospital. The Indian Navy ruled out any major damage to the 45,000-tonne former Soviet carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was preparing for joint drills with French Navy’s lone aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Indian Ocean.
While Indian Navy officials are still busy trying to determine the cause of the accident, it did not stop Chinese media from taking potshots at the India Navy suggesting that the accident was born out of Indian incompetence.
Li Jie, a Chinese Naval expert while speaking with state-owned Global Times said that the fire was likely caused due to human error and not due to any mechanical fault. “The fire and the extinguishing process suggested that they are unprofessional and unprepared to address such an emergency,” he said.
He further added that while India has been actively building its military in recent years, its lax military culture and loose regulations cannot effectively train soldiers to operate advanced military equipment.
Indian Navy had 62 mishaps from 2007-2017 and 177 officers were found guilty during the investigations that followed. As per the investigation, accidents in the Indian Navy were a continuous feature because of either poor quality procurement or improper maintenance or inadequate training.
On August 14 2013, INS Sindhurakshak, a Kilo-class submarine exploded inside the Mumbai dockyard killing all 18 onboard and later sank. In the same year in December, INS Konkan, a minesweeper reported fire from its engine room.
A year before INS Talwar, a frigate collided with a fishing trawler. In the first month of January 2014 another Indian Navy vessel INS Betwa reported a crack in its sonar dome, the bottom-most part of the ship.
In the same month, INS Sindhughosh another Kiloclass submarine had a near miss when the tide suddenly receded and the ship ran aground. A few days later, INS Vipul a missile boat reported a hole in its pillar and INS Airavat, an amphibious ship suffered damages to its propellers.
In February of the same year, INS Sindhuratna reported fire which resulted in the death of two officers and an emergency airlift of seven sailors while in the same year in March, a toxic gas leak onboard INS Kolkata killed a Commander instantly.
In May, a minor explosion occurred on INS Ganga while a torpedo-recovery vessel sank of Vishakhapatnam harbor killing one officer.
Such facts can support China’s criticism but it does not paint the entire picture. In fact, not only the Indian Navy but even the United States Navy and Chinese Navy have suffered naval accidents in the past.
In September 2019, China’s Type 094 11,000 tonne Jin-class nuclear-powered submarine which can stay submerged for months was believed to have been involved in some accident after it surfaced near a Vietnamese fishing trawler.
The strategic Naval asset surfacing so close to disputed Paracel Islands next to a Vietnam’s fisherman boat had raised suspicion that something had gone wrong. The fact only came to light through social media suggesting that many more incidents might have gone unreported.
In fact, in 1984, a Russian submarine after getting entangled in the fishing net of Norwegian fishing trawler had to surface thereby exposing its mission to NATO. An English submarine had also met with a similar accident when it drove through the nets of a Scottish fishing boat killing its crew members.
In March 2019, a Chinese Navy plane had crashed in the Hainan province killing two crew members during a training exercise. China’s Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark suffered from various high profile crashes due to technical issues that it forced Beijing to develop a new aircraft to replace it.
In 2003, an engine malfunction in a Chinese diesel submarine resulted in the death of all 70 sailors due to suffocation. The United States USS John S McCain and USS Fitzgerald crashed weeks apart killing ten and seven sailors respectively.
China’s criticism seems rather unfounded considering India was operating aircraft carriers long before China. India commissioned its first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant a British World War-II carrier in 1961.
The Indian Navy operated INS Vikrant in performance of combat duties in 1971 war against Pakistan, while China’s first carrier Liaoning, an ex-Soviet carrier was not commissioned until 2012 and has not performed any combat operations.
Also, considering the fact that navies across the world have been involved in accidents due to some or other reason, it would be unwise on the part of China to underestimate the Indian Navy.
Inputs From Michael Peck, National Interest