Royal Navy nuclear submarine navigation problems?

A written answer in the House of Commons from the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, suggests there is a problem with Royal Navy submarine navigation systems or crew training.

Luff was asked by Angus Robertson MP how many collisions involving a UK nuclear-powered submarine and (a) another submarine, (b) another naval vessel, (c) a private vessel and (d) a merchant vessel there have been since 1979; and how many grounding incidents involving UK nuclear-powered submarines there have been since 2008. The response showed there have been four serious incidents in the last two years after a period of five years where no incidents were reported. Luff replied that:

The full list of incidents of collisions and groundings involving Royal Navy nuclear powered submarines for which the Royal Navy holds records is as follows:

HMS Astute grounded off the Isle of Skye in October 2010.
HMS Torbay grounded in the Eastern Mediterranean in April 2009.
HMS Vanguard collided with FS Le Triomphant in February 2009.
HMS Superb grounded in the Red Sea in May 2008.

HMS Tireless struck an iceberg while on Arctic Patrol in May 2003.
HMS Trafalgar grounded on Fladda-chuain in November 2002.
HMS Triumph grounded in November 2000.
HMS Victorious grounded, while surfaced, on Skelmorlie Bank in November 2000.

HMS Trenchant grounded off the coast of Australia in July 1997.
HMS Repulse grounded in the North Channel in July 1996.
HMS Trafalgar grounded off the Isle of Skye in July 1996.
HMS Valliant grounded in the North Norwegian Sea in March 1991.
HMS Trenchant snagged the fishing vessel Antares in the Arran Trench in November 1990.

HMS Spartan grounded west of Scotland in October 1989.
HMS Sceptre snagged the fishing vessel Scotia in November 1989.
HMS Conqueror collided with the yacht Dalriada off the Northern Irish coast in July 1988.

Despite Luff’s answer to a separate question about training to avoid collisions and groundings that courses are comprehensive, complex and demanding it seems the problem is getting worse. Perhaps the UK strategy is that Britannia should give up pretending to rule the waves and rule the seabed instead.

3 Responses to “Royal Navy nuclear submarine navigation problems?”


  1. 1 Agincourt 03/11/2010 at 10:51 am

    This is serious. 3 incidents involved ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) – Vanguard, Victorious, & Repulse. And at least 8 of these reported incidents were in UK waters, which surely should be fully surveyed – & kept so up to date. I also recall that when the Canadians received the SSK HMS Upholder, after buying it & its 3 sister boats from Britain, they found that it had a huge dent in its hull, & that when it (or one of its sister boats) was being transferred across the Atlantic to Canada under a Canadian crew, almost sank – with the tragic loss of one of its crew members.

    Something’s clearly at fault – the surveying, training, navigation etc. Could it be the unavoidable dependence on passive sonar to ensure maximum stealth has a downside in inadequately surveyed waters?

    Final point about SSBNs: co-operating closely with the French as our new half-wit government proposes over nuclear deterrence matters will inevitably compromise the sharing by Britain of US nuclear secrets – which the US are unlikely (at this stage, at least) to want to do so with France. So co-operating closely with France in the future, will mean less US secrets coming our way. I wonder if the MoD & the FCO have thought that little matter through at all. Probably not!

  2. 2 Propulsor 04/11/2010 at 7:32 am

    The incident involving HMS Upholder (which became HMS Chicoutimi) which led to the loss of a life, was shown to be the result of the Skipper running on the surface in appalling weather conditions with both upper and lower connining tower hatches open. Sea water partially flooded the control from and coursed into the area where electrical cables passed through a bulkhead causing the insulation to fail leading to a major fire.


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