British nuclear sub towed free after running aground

22nd October 2010, Comments 0 comments

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

HMS Astute was freed by a tug after spending Friday stuck on a shingle bank off the Isle of Skye.

The submarine -- billed as the kingdom's most powerful hunter-killer submarine -- was towed out to spend the night in deeper waters and will be examined for damage on Saturday.

"It is a continuous process of assessment of the situation," a Royal Navy spokesman said.

After the checks, the submarine will return to its Faslane base in western Scotland.

It is believed the submarine was undergoing sea trials as it is not expected to enter service until next year.

The submarine became stranded when its rudder got stuck on rocks off the western coast of Scotland.

The defence ministry said earlier there was no environmental damage.

Television footage had 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, as two tugs waited 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."

Local residents and campaigners had earlier expressed worries about the stranded sub.

"It's a concern. Anything with the word nuclear in it is obviously a worry," said 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 sub is described as "the largest, most advanced and most formidable vessel of its kind ever operated by the Royal Navy" on the force's website.

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 sent to free the submarine 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.

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.

A British nuclear submarine and a French nuclear submarine, HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant, collided in the 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 contacted each other about the incident.

© 2010 AFP

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