The Astute class nuclear powered [but not nuclear armed] British submarine, HMS Ambush has had a coming together, while submerged, with a merchant ship off Gibraltar.
Her conning tower is damaged on the forward side suggesting that the submarine was not far below the surface when the collision occurred.
The Ministry of Defence, which has reported the incident taking place two days ago, in the early afternoon of Tuesday h July, says that there has been no damage whatsoever to the ship’s nuclear reactor and no injury to any of her crew. The merchant ship concerned is also said to be undamaged.
It has to be a matter of concern that so advanced a submarine, the second built of the new Astute class of hunter-killer submarines and commissioned in March 2013, was apparently unable to ‘see’ another vessel in close proximity.
Back on the night of 3rd–4th February 2009, the class leader of the ageing Vanguard class of British nuclear armed [Trident] submarines – now to be replaced – suffered a submerged collision in the Atlantic with France’s equivalent submarine, Le Triomphant – with neither evidently aware of the approaching presence of the other.
That was more understandable because both of these submarines have a degree of ‘invisibility’ when on operations and both are elderly.
But Ambush is our very latest technology and even if she was in ‘invisible’ mode, the merchant vessel involved in this collision would certainly not have had such a capacity and ought to have been ‘seen’ by Ambush.
How, moreover, can we be sure that with, say, a very large container ship travelling faster, it too would not have been ‘seen’ by Ambush – with far more substantial consequences for crew and reactor.
In October 2010 the class leader, HMS Astute herself, was grounded inshore on a gravel bank below the Skye bridge, during illicit shore trips by her crew. After that highly embarrassing incident, with every cameraman, pro and am, that could get there hanging over the bridge above going clickety click at the detail of the high security vessel, Astute’s commander, Andy Cole, was removed from seagoing service and deployed to desk work.
Is the culture of professionalism in the Royal Navy subject to creeping casual dilution? And while there may be no damage to the nuclear reactor on Ambush, the damage to the conning tower will not be cheap to repair.