The Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine HMS Ambush has arrived in Scotland for repairs following a collision off Gibraltar last month.
The submarine arrived at the Faslane naval base last week as an expert from the Royal United Services Institute warned the collision on July 20 would put “huge strain” on Britain’s remaining submarine fleet.
HMS Ambush sustained significant damage to its conning tower in what the Ministry of Defence described as “a glancing collision” while submerged 3.3 nautical miles off the Rock.
“The Gibraltar Government has been informed that the HMS Ambush collision was a result of human error during a training exercise…” the Gibraltar Government said in a statement yesterday.
At the time of the collision HMS Ambush is believed to have been 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 off the east side of the Rock.
Peter Roberts, a Senior Research Fellow for Sea Power and Maritime Studies at RUSI, said the actions of the crew on HMS Ambush would be carefully scrutinised before they deployed again.
“They surfaced ahead of a merchant ship in what were benign conditions, in what was a very procedural way, it wasn’t a wartime scenario when this might be expected,” he told Forces TV.
“Therefore there is going to be considerable analysis and examination of that ship’s company as they come back.”
It will be some time before HMS Ambush is ready to deploy again, however.
The submarine will undergo extensive checks and surveys as engineers prepare a repair plan for MoD approval.
Once the repair work itself is completed, the submarine will have to undergo further checks to ensure it can operate safely.
Mr Roberts said another submarine and its crew would now have to step in to fill the operational gap left by HMS Ambush.
“There’s going to be a huge strain on the remaining submarines,” he told Forces TV.
“While Ambush had a full plot and a programme ahead of her, some other submarine is going to pick that up, some other ship’s company, submarine crew, that were about to disappear on holiday with their families is going to be turning round to their wives and kids and saying, ‘I’m really sorry but at a week’s notice I’m deploying for six months because the other submarine is broken and we’ve got to go’.”
He said that such strain would make it harder for the Royal Navy to retain its specialist, highly-trained submariners who could easily find less-demanding work in the nuclear industry on shore.
The MoD said the submarine was now in the UK fort repairs and that there were no safety concerns arising from the collision off Gibraltar.
“We can confirm that HMS Ambush is now alongside at HMNB Clyde Naval Base for repairs following a collision with a merchant vessel off the coast of Gibraltar,” the MoD said.
“There are no issues with her reactor as a result of the incident; the damage is superficial and does not compromise her hull integrity.”
“Comprehensive checks have shown that there was no increase in radiation as a result of this incident. An independent Service Inquiry will be conducted by the Defence Safety Authority and an Immediate Ship’s Investigation is already under way.”
“While these inquiries are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further on the incident.”
Photos by DM Parody