France looking at damage from nuclear sub collision

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The French navy is still assessing damages to its nuclear submarine which crashed into a British submarine in the middle of the Atlantic earlier this month.

PARIS – The French navy said Thursday it was still assessing damages to its nuclear submarine from a collision with a British sub after a newspaper claimed Le Triomphant was in worse shape than reported.

The nuclear ballistic submarine crashed into Britain's HMS Vanguard in the middle of the Atlantic earlier this month and was forced to return to port with a dented sonar dome.

But the Ouest France newspaper reported Thursday that in addition to the sonar dome, Le Triomphant also suffered damage to its conning tower and sail planes, and that repairs would take some time.

"There are investigations under way on the consequences of this event," said navy spokesman Jerome Erulin, who confirmed that the sonar was damaged and repeated the navy's insistence that France's nuclear deterrent force was not affected.

"We are still conducting investigations and assessments. Conclusions will be made at a later stage," said Erulin. He added that repairs could take several months.

Ouest France quoted unnamed sources as saying that "it wasn't just the nose of the Triomphant that took a bad hit in the collision with the British submarine... there was also an impact on the conning tower."

French Defence Minister Herve Morin said this week that the crews did not realise their submarines had crashed into each other until the navy announced on 6 February that Le Triomphant had hit an unidentified object under water.

"These submarines are undetectable, they make less noise than a shrimp," said Morin when asked how such sophisticated vessels could have collided earlier amid the vastness of the North Atlantic.

"Our submarine went back to Brest, the British submarine continued its patrol and it's when we reported the incident that the British, who had just learned from their commander that there had been a problem, contacted us," he said.

British officials approached them "and said 'well hey, we also had a problem'," he said.

Each sub is around 150 metres long and can carry up to 48 nuclear warheads on a maximum of 16 missiles. A total of 250 sailors were on board the subs at the time.

The unprecedented accident has raised questions about whether the allies could have better coordinated their patrols, and whether France's imminent return to the NATO command structure might improve safety.

But defence officials said the movements of nuclear ballistic submarines - which are designed to be undetectable - are national secrets and that closer cooperation would be an extremely sensitive proposition.

France has maintained a sea-based nuclear deterrent force since 1971 and currently has three nuclear-armed submarines in operation. A fourth is undergoing sea trials and will come into service in 2010.

[AFP / Expatica]

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