Don’t Forget to Close the Hatch – A Costly Lesson for the Indian Navy – During the War of 1812, United States Navy officer James Lawrence, commander of the USS Chesapeake, famously uttered his final words, “Don’t give up the ship,” during an engagement with the Royal Navy’s HMS Shannon.
While his vessel was still captured by the British, the quotation became a popular naval battle cry and was later invoked in Oliver Hazard Perry’s personal battle flag.
The Indian Navy has its own motto today: “Shano Varunah” – a Sanskrit verse taken from the “Taittirya Upanishad,” meaning “May the god of the oceans be auspicious unto us.” Varunah (or Varuna) is the mythical god of the oceans.
Shano Varunah is probably a lot better than “Don’t forget to close the hatch,” which is what some could have suggested mockingly after an incident in 2017 involving INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine.
The Arihant, whose name means “Slayer of Enemies,” must have angered the aforementioned Varuna in some way as the sea proved to be its greatest enemy.
The nuclear submarine was the first of an expected five in class, designed and constructed as part of the Indian Navy’s Advanced Technology Vessel project.
The Arihant was designed with four launch tubes that could carry a dozen K-15 short-range missiles or K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
Though a technologically advanced vessel, its initial crew left something to be desired.
Rough Start in Calm Waters
Plenty of vessels have floundered in rough seas, but the Arihant’s trouble came in the calm harbor waters.
The then-brand new $2.9 billion submarine was left completely inoperative for nearly a year after a hatch was left open by a crewmember while the vessel was still at the harbor.
The open right side hatch allowed seawater to rush into the hull, almost sinking the boat, and necessitating almost a year’s worth of repairs in dry dock.
The seawater caused damage to the propulsion compartment, while many of the 6,000-ton vessel’s pipes that carried pressurized water coolant to and from the sub’s eighty-three-megawatt nuclear reactor had to be cut open and replaced.
As mishaps go, the Arihant may have been among the more embarrassing but fortunately, it did not result in the loss of life.
The six-thousand-ton INS Arihant remained out of service at the docks while the water was pumped out, and the pipes replaced.
The entire process took ten months. Its absence was first noted in the Doklam border standoff with China in the summer of 2017—and the Indian military only confirmed that the submarine had undergone repairs in early 2018.
Despite the rough start, INS Arihant has proven to be a reliable submarine, and last October, it carried out a successful launch of a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM).
Undoubtedly, the crew – and probably all of the Indian Navy – would like to forget about the open hatch incident, and now believe that the god of the oceans will be more auspicious.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.