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The inky blackness of the Arabian Sea was my familiar world back when I served in the Indian Navy. Aboard INS Shalki, a German-designed HDW SSK class submarine, we patrolled silently at a depth of around 50 meters. The usual serenity of the deep was shattered by a sudden spike on the sonar. The rhythmic thrumming of the sub’s engines ceased as the Captain’s calm but firm voice echoed through the control room, “Stop engines. Ascend to periscope depth. Visual confirmation on surface vessels – now!”

The crew responded with practiced efficiency. The silence was broken only by the gentle hum as the submarine rose towards the surface. With periscopes raised, the officers peered into the moonlit water above.

What awaited them wasn’t the expected. Instead of another vessel, a flotilla of fishing trawlers, their wooden forms swaying gently on the waves, surrounded our submarine. The tranquil night air was disrupted by the distant clatter of their engines and the occasional shouts from the fishermen.

Suddenly, one of the trawlers spotted the periscope slicing through the surface. In the dim light, it must have resembled the eye of a monstrous fish to them. Excited yells erupted as they hurriedly cast their nets, convinced they had snagged a prize beyond imagination.

The Officer of the Watch, despite the seriousness of the situation, couldn’t hide a hint of amusement as he reported to the Executive Officer, “Sir, it seems we’ve been ‘caught’ by fishermen.”

The situation was actually quite serious. If the trawler’s nets became entangled with the periscope or propellers, it could have severely damaged the submarine and hindered its maneuverability. The Captain’s response was immediate, “Surface the boat!”

With practiced urgency, the crew brought the submarine to the surface. The sail emerged first, followed by the imposing hull, sending a surge of water cascading outwards. The scene was surreal – a giant metal leviathan breaching the surface, displacing water with awe-inspiring power.

The jubilant fishermen were met with utter bewilderment. Their supposed giant fish transformed into a colossal, gleaming submarine before their eyes. Panic ensued. Engines roared to life, nets were cut loose in haste, and the trawlers scattered like fireflies in the dark, desperate to escape the imposing vessel.

For the crew of the INS Shalki, the real work had just begun. It took hours of meticulous effort to clear the entangled nets and ensure the submarine was free from obstructions. Once clear, the Captain ordered another dive, and the submarine vanished back into the silent depths, resuming its patrol.

This incident, though humorous in hindsight, served as a reminder of the potential dangers lurking beneath the waves. More importantly, it highlighted the critical role of the INS Shalki, the first indigenously built submarine in India, a product of technological collaboration with Germany. While the encounter might have been a stroke of luck for the fishermen, it underscored the importance of vigilance and the silent power that lies beneath the surface.

Story courtesy: Chief Sandeep Satkar