Attrition: The Most Dangerous Adversary Is In Plain Sight


February 4, 2011:  For the second time in five years, the Indian Navy has lost a ship due to accident. This incident was the worst peacetime loss ever. On January 30th, while entering Mumbai harbor, the 3,000 ton frigate INS Vindhyagiri, unexpectedly collided with a much larger outbound container ship (that had unexpectedly turned to avoid hitting another large ship). The Vindhyagiri began taking on water and a fire broke out. All aboard were safely taken off, and overnight, while the fire was being fought, all munitions were offloaded. The fires could not be contained before the incoming water sent the Vindhyagiri under, 24 hours after the collision. Some equipment may still be salvaged, but the hull itself is considered a total loss. Five years ago, the 455 ton corvette INS Prahar was lost off Goa after a collision with a merchant ship. A board of inquiry will be convened to determine who was at fault for the loss of the Vindhyagiri. That won't be easy, because the shipping channel into Mumbai is normally quite busy, with most of the traffic being large merchant ships.

Collisions, or near collisions, with merchant ships is relatively common, especially with submarines. The near misses, or incidents that cause little damage, rarely get reported in the mass media. But the recent Indian incident demonstrates why naval bases are usually built away from major ports. Merchant ships are larger and less nimble than warships, and there are a lot more of these behemoths lumbering in and out of ports along with the much smaller warships.