Britain's newest nuclear submarine runs aground

22nd October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's newest nuclear submarine ran aground off a Scottish island on Friday, in an embarrassing blunder just days after the government announced sweeping cuts to the Royal Navy.

The defence ministry said there was no environmental damage after the rudder of HMS Astute -- billed as the country's most powerful hunter-killer submarine -- got stuck on rocks near the Isle of Skye.

Tugboats were waiting until the next low tide to try to free the 3.5-billion-pound (3.94-billion euro, 5.5-billion-dollar) sub, which only entered service in August, the ministry said.

"The submarine is stable in calm waters. Normal safety procedures are being undertaken. There is no risk to the public or to those on board," Defence Secretary Liam Fox said.

Television footage showed the stranded vessel emitting clouds of steam and lying half submerged in a stretch of shallow water against a backdrop of dark green hills several hours after the incident.

Two tugs were waiting nearby.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said it was "not a nuclear incident".

"Whilst conducting a personnel transfer HMS Astute grounded her rudder in the vicinity of the Isle of Skye. She was initially unable to free herself and we are waiting for the next high tide," the spokesman told AFP.

"No part of the Astute's nuclear propulsion system is damaged or in danger of being damaged. We can confirm there are no injuries to personnel and there is no environmental damage."

Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it was sending a tug to the scene of the incident to be on standby, but added that the defence ministry was in charge of the salvage operation.

"The submarine is on the rocks off the Isle of Skye. Apparently you can see it from Skye bridge," said agency spokesman Mark Clark.

Local residents and campaigners expressed worries.

"It's a concern. Anything with the word nuclear in it is obviously a worry," said witness Rachel Browett, who runs a visitor centre on the island.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said the incident "highlights the dangers of the large number of nuclear submarine movements around Britain's shores."

The accident comes just days after the government announced sweeping cuts to Britain's armed forces including the scrapping of the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal.

The BBC reported that one of the tugs -- the one sent by the coastguard -- was also set to be taken out of service in 2011 under the sweeping austerity measures announced on Wednesday by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Astute was named and launched by Prince Charles's wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, in 2007 and was commissioned into the navy less than two months ago after intensive sea trials.

Weighing 7,800 tonnes and almost 100 metres (328 feet) long, it is equipped with special noise reduction technology enabling it to "operate covertly and remain undetected in almost all circumstances," the ministry said.

It is armed with Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles and its nuclear reactor is supposed to mean that it will not need refuelling once in its 25-year lifespan.

Two British and French nuclear submarines, HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant, collided in the middle of Atlantic in February 2009, leaving both vessels damaged but still seaworthy.

The subs are so stealthy that their crews did not realise they had hit each other until their governments got in touch over the incident.

© 2010 AFP

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