Russian and Indian media report accident sub was to go to Indian navy

An Indian naval spokesman would not comment Monday on leasing this or any submarine from Russia — but his boss has said previously that India was interested, the Associated Press reported.

The Akula-class sub was undergoing trials in the Sea of Japan when its fire-extinguishing system activated in error, spewing Freon gas that suffocated the victims and injured 21 others.

Russia’s top business dailies Kommersant and Vedomosti reported Monday that the Nerpa was to be handed over to India’s navy next year under a 10-year, $650-million lease. Vedomosti quoted an unidentified shipping industries official as saying the sub was intended for India’s navy, which has already named it the Chakra.

India previously leased a nuclear-powered submarine from the Soviet Union in 1988-1991, and India’s navy chief, Adm. Sureesh Mehta, was quoted as saying that India was negotiating with Moscow to lease two Russian nuclear submarines, the first of which could arrive next year.

Armed with cruise missiles capable of hitting targets 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) away, Akula-class subs are considered the quietest and deadliest of Russian attack submarines. A sub of that class could unsettle the military balance of power in Asia, dramatically bolstering India’s navy capability as it jockeys with China for influence over energy supply routes in the Indian Ocean, AP reported.

Indian news reports said Monday the submarine was to join the southern Asian country’s navy in August. The Indian Express newspaper also reported that Indian sailors had been scheduled to head to Russia later this month for on-board training.

Kommersant, meanwhile, quoted an unnamed shipyard official as saying the delivery of the submarine to India, originally set for August 2007, had been postponed twice already.

The Nerpa had 208 people aboard when the accident occurred, including 81 seamen, according to the navy. Akula-class subs normally carry a crew of 73.