22 Oct 2010

Submarine freed after running aground off Scottish coast

A nuclear-powered submarine, the Royal Navy’s HMS Astute, is towed free after running aground on a shingle bank near the Isle of Skye.

The Royal Navy said the HMS Astute was towed to deeper water off the coast of Scotland after it ran aground earlier today.

HMS Astute was on sea trials when the rudder of the vessel is thought to have become stuck on a shingle bank on the west coast of Scotland at around 8am today. The incident happened between the mainland and the Isle of Skye.

An investigation has been launched into how the incident happened. Local sources told Channel 4 News they believed the incident was due to human error. It is believed a crew transfer from the shore to the submarine was being carried out when the incident happened.

Earlier the Ministry of Defence insisted it was not a nuclear incident and said no personnel had been injured.

“The submarine remains watertight,” the MoD said. “There is no indication of any environmental impact.”

Tug ‘to be scrapped in cuts’
It has emerged that the tug which helped pull the submarine to deeper water is to be scrapped as part of the government’s spending review.

According to local reports, the Anglian Prince is one of four emergency vessels based around the UK which are set to be withdrawn under cost cutting measures.

The tugs are to be taken out of service in 2011 to save £32m over four years. Members of the local authorities said it was “unthinkable” to be withdrawing the tugs.

John Laing, transport chairman at Highland Council, said it was “ironic” that the tug was called to rescue the Royal Navy’s newest submarine just days after the spending cuts were announced.

“We have fought long and hard to have a tug service protect our shores and this incident brings into sharp focus the need for the tug at Stornoway,” he said.

“This is exactly the kind of incident that the tug is required for.”

It is not the first time the Anglian Prince has been sent to rescue a submarine in troubled waters. In 2004 the tug towed a Canadian submarine to safety after a fire onboard killed one crewman and critically injured another.

Submarine freed after running aground off Scottish coast
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 in Furness, Cumbria, 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

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.

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.