A nuclear-powered Royal Navy submarine which was damaged in a collision with a merchant vessel last week sailed from Gibraltar yesterday.
There was no confirmation of the vessel’s final destination but it is likely to be heading to the UK for repairs.
HMS Ambush was forced to dock in Gibraltar after the collision on July 20 and had remained in port while the extent of the damage was assessed.
The Astute-class attack submarine has now returned to sea and officials have insisted it is “absolutely safe” with no damage to its nuclear reactor.
“The submarine is absolutely safe to go to sea,” a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence told the Chronicle.
Before sailing, HMS Ambush underwent “…a stringent safety review and full assessment of her ability to navigate safely.”
Asked about the vessel’s destination, she replied: “We don’t comment on submarine operations.”
In a development that took British officials by surprise, Spain’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs was somewhat less discrete.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, the ministry headed by acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo revealed information about the submarine that the MoD would have preferred to keep confidential.
“In response to the request reiterated yesterday by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the embassy of the United Kingdom announced in the late afternoon that, following an assessment made after the accident suffered by HMS Ambush, it has been decided to repair the vessel in the United Kingdom,” the Spanish ministry said in the statement.
The British Embassy itself had made no public statement.
HMS Ambush sustained external damage to its conning tower during a glancing collision with a chemical tanker while submerged in international waters 3.3 nautical miles off Gibraltar.
There was no damage to its nuclear plant or injuries and the vessel remained seaworthy.
However MoD officials said the collision with the vessel had caused “some external damage” to the hi-tech submarine, which costs more than £1 billion.
The submarine was involved in the collision despite being equipped with what the Royal Navy boasts are “world-leading sensors”.
At the time of the collision HMS Ambush was hosting the final month of the Submarine Command Course, a challenging course used to test the skills of aspiring captains.
The submarine had been operating submerged off Gibraltar for at least a fortnight and had been filmed by local sports fishermen.
The five-month course, known by submariners as ‘the Perisher’ because of its high failure rate, is used to test students’ skills and temperament to the limit and is overseen by a senior commander referred to as Teacher.
The MoD has confirmed that the UK’s Defence Safety Authority [DSA] is conducting an “independent service inquiry” into the circumstances surrounding the collision.
“The purpose of a service inquiry is to learn lesson from an incident and make any appropriate recommendations,” the MoD spokeswoman said.
“It is not to apportion blame.”
This was just the second time that HMS Ambush had been used to host the Perisher course.
The Astute-class are the largest, most advanced and most powerful hunter-killer attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy.
The 7,400-tonne boats carry torpedoes for targeting enemy submarines and ships and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Before it sailed yesterday, weapons were unloaded from HMS Ambush by personnel at the naval base in Gibraltar.
Main photo by DM Parody