22 Oct 2010

Nuclear submarine runs aground off Scottish coast

A nuclear-powered submarine has run aground near the Isle of Skye, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

HMS Astute

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the HMS Astute had run into trouble off the Scottish coast but insisted it was not a nuclear incident.

“We are aware of an incident involving one of our submarines off the Isle of Skye.

“This is a not a nuclear incident.

“We are responding to the incident and can confirm that there are no injuries to personnel and the submarine remains watertight.

He added: “There is no indication of any environmental impact.”

“This is a not a nuclear incident. We are responding to the incident and can confirm that there are no injuries” Ministry of Defence spokesman

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it hopes to move the sub at high tide.

“We have sent a coastguard tug to where the submarine ran aground at the Kyle of Lochalsh near the Skye bridge.

“It will stand by and monitor what will be going on. We think on the rising tide, at around 6pm, there should be some movement of the vessel.”

Local sources have told Channel 4 News they believe the incident was due to human error.

One eyewitness, Rachel Browett, said the sub was “clearly visible from the bridge”.

“I could see steam or smoke coming from the top and about half the sub was visible. A few boats were around about it in the water and a helicopter went overhead at one point, though I don’t know if it was involved.

“It is a concern. Anything with the word nuclear in it is obviously a worry, but I don’t know enough about it to say more.”

Key figures: Britain's Astute-class submarines
Crew: 84 (12 officers)
Length: 97 metres
Displacement: 7,800 tonnes
Design diving depth: over 300 metres
Submerged speed: around 30 knots
Patrol endurance: 90 days

Built in Barrow, the submarine is part of a new Astute-class of vessel made by BAE Systems. Britain plans to buy a total of seven - the second, HMS Ambush, is due to be launched later this year.

Astute's role as an undersea hunter-killer relies on stealth. It performs a range of tasks including intelligence gathering, anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel warfare.

The submarine carries six 21-inch tubes for Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles - totalling 38 weapons - capable of delivering pin-point strikes 2,000 km from the coast.

The nuclear reactor and four turbines on board Astute are capable of generating tens of megawatts of power, and less than a single watt of power is radiated into the sea. Astute is designed not to require refuelling throughout her full service life.

The sonar suite has the processing power of 2,000 laptop computers. It has the world's largest number of hydrophones, providing the Royal Navy with the "biggest ears" of any sonar system in service today.

A team of five Royal Navy chefs provide 24 hour service. On a 10 week patrol the crew would get through an average 18,000 sausages and 4,200 Weetabix for breakfast.

Sanitary fittings comprise five showers, five toilets, two urinals and eight hand basins for a crew of 96 - according to BAE the commanding officer has his own hand basin.

Source: BAE Systems/Reuters

The incident comes after the government announced an 8 per cent cut to the Defence Budget this week, including the loss of almost 50,000 jobs.

The £3.5bn HMS Astute was launched by the Duchess of Cornwall in 2007.

The 100 metre vessel weighs 7,800 tonnes, which is equivalent to nearly 1,000 double-decker buses.

Its Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles are capable of delivering pin-point strikes from 1,240 miles with conventional weapons.

The submarine’s nuclear reactor enables it to make its own air and water. It also means the sub will not need refuelling for the entirety of its 25-year life.

Investigation launched
The commanding officer of HMS Astute could find himself in front of a court martial as a result of his submarine running aground. Royal Navy experts have launched a detailed investigation, known as a service inquiry, into why the embarrassing incident occurred.

Military prosecutors will then consider whether HMS Astute’s skipper, Commander Andy Coles, or any of his crew was negligent.

Navy spokesman Captain Karl Evans said: “There will clearly be a full investigation in due course into the incidents leading up to this untoward event.”

A defence source said it was likely that Cdr Coles, as the officer in ultimate charge of the advanced nuclear-powered submarine, would face a court martial.