With the Skye Bridge as the viewing gallery for photographers professional and amateur, all that the UK’s most advanced hunter-killer submarine could do was blush blackly as she sat on a shingle bank a little NW of the bridge. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.
The official report on the incident – by Rear Admiral Ian Corder, Head of the Submarine Service, has just been published.
It was an incident which saw Astute’s commander, the popular Andy Coles, lose his command and relocate to desk duties.
It was also an incident which ended with the submarine sustaining more than £1million of damage. This was partly due to the grounding and partly – and expensively – due to a handshake with the Emergency Towing Vessel, Anglian Prince, which came down from Stornoway to the rescue.
Anglian Prince has a high profile which was not easily aligned to Astute’s low one and in manoeuvering to help get Astute floated as the tide rose, the sub’s starboard foreplane was damaged by contact with the tug.
Rear Admiral Corder’s report finds that the primary causes of the grounding were: ‘non-adherence to correct procedures for the planning and execution of the navigation combined with a significant lack of appreciation by the Officer of the Watch (OOW) of the proximity of danger.’
Unsurprisingly, it also finds a range of contributory causes, including some equipment failures.
The submarine, whose return to Faslane we covered by getting ourselves to the south east corner of the Isle of Bute to catch her coming through the narrows at the Cumbraes, surfaced, with a flotilla of escorting tugs, went on to experience a bizarre and brutal incident.
She grounded on Skye on 22nd October 2010. Six months later, on 8th April 2011, she was on a ceremonial ‘flying the flag’ visit to Southampton where, at her berth, a young rating went berserk. Ryan Donovan opened fire in the Control Room with an SA80 assault rifle, hitting two officers, killing one and injuring the second.
He was then overpowered by the visiting Leader of Southampton Council, Royston Smith, a former RAF flight engineer and by the council’ Chief Executive, Alistair Neill.
The officer who died was 36 year old Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux, who has just been honoured by the posthumous award of the George Medal.