INS Sindhurakshak has more than 2,500 kilos of "unused" Trinitrotoluene(TNT), considered the world's deadliest explosive. And that is why salvaging the submarine is no easy task.
The Russian-made Kilo class submarine sank at the Mumbai naval dockyard on August 14 last year, following a series of explosions, claiming the lives of 18 navy men on board.
At that time, the battle-ready submarine was loaded with at least 16 torpedoes and Klub-S missiles. To be precise, there were six firing tubes and 12 racks in the submarine's nose carrying torpedoes and missiles, an officer said.
On January 31, the navy signed a Rs300-crore salvage contract with Resolve India, a subsidiary of the Resolve Marine Group in the US. The firm was given 160 days to salvage the submarine from the seabed.
Resolve India has set up base at the Mumbai naval dockyard with its team of experts and professional divers. Heavy-duty machinery are being used in the salvage operations. But the top priority is to either safely remove or "neutralise" the explosives on board.
These torpedoes have been under water for a long time, but handling explosives is always risky, an expert said. Torpedoes can shoot down a submarine in one go as it is loaded with high-end explosives.
"Certainly, it is risky... Professional salvagers have to neutralise unused explosives because an explosion can lead to massive disaster," the officer said. "It is a challenge even for experienced salvagers."
A contract monitoring team, headed by a three-star admiral, reviews the progress daily. Resolve India experts are racing against time to complete the task.
A senior naval officer said: "The project is on schedule. The navy is closely supervising the salvage operations."
INS Sindhurakshak was bought in 1997 at $113 million. In April last year it underwent "mid-life medium refit-cum-upgrade" at Russia's Zvezdochka shipyard at $156 million.
The Board of Inquiry, set up to find the reasons behind the horrific tragedy, hasn't been able to make any headway because the submarine is still to be salvaged. Initial investigations have, however, suggested the accident happened because of mishandling of ammunition.