British nuclear submarine runs aground

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A British nuclear submarine ran aground off a Scottish island on Friday, the defence ministry said, adding that there were no immediate signs of any casualties or environmental damage.

HMS Astute -- which only entered service in August and is billed as the Royal Navy's most powerful hunter-killer submarine -- got into trouble near the Isle of Skye.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that the rudder of the 3.5-billion-pound (3.94-billion euro, 5.5-billion-dollar) submarine had become "grounded".

"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."

The ministry added in a statement: "This is a not a nuclear incident."

The BBC showed a photograph of the submarine lying half submerged in shallow water, with two tugboats nearby.

"It appears to be listing... there was a helicopter hovering over the top and there are just two naval vessels standing off to the north of her," eyewitness Ross McKerlich told the broadcaster.

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," said agency spokesman Mark Clark.

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

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 97 metres (323 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 the Atlantic Ocean 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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