Tuesday, June 21, 2011

American Nuclear submarine 'within meters of ‘Catastrophe' off British coast: report

According to lengthy awaited report, A US nuclear submarine came within meters of crashing into rocks off Plymouth with 'disastrous' costs.
The nuclear powered submarine came close to a catastrophe during the incident in which two of their sailors were killed.

A Royal Navy inquiry report illustrates the USS Minneapolis-St Paul became riskily close to grounding on rocks in the River Tamar near Plymouth, Devon, and responsible human failings.

The submarine "came within less than her own length" of striking rocks as savior greatly struggled to save five crew members who were swept overboard in icy waters.

Three were resolved to secure by close by boats but Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins and Petty Officer Michael Holtz, who were tethered to the vessel, were killed after being cracked against the hull by 20 ft waves.

The incident occurred in December 2006 but a report into what come about has ultimately been disclosed more than four years later.

US Navy prosecutors said the incident was "terrible" but acknowledged it could have been "disastrous". The report said: "This was a brutal incident with many loss of life. There was a very certain possibility of the boat grounding in very uneven seas and on an ebb tide some 500 yards south of Plymouth breakwater.

"Furthermore, the crew's mess hatch remained open in these circumstances permitting a substantial volume of water into the submarine.

"Disastrous as the loss of the lives of Holtz and Higgins was, the result could have been so much more horrible and thus must be looked upon as at the less serious end of the potential range of outcomes."

The 24 page report faults human breakdown and criticized the safety regime at the Devonport Naval base in Plymouth.

The final responsibility for the "brutal and entirely preventable incident" lay with commanding officer, Commander Edwin Ruff, who was later reassured of his post. The pilot was also sacked.
The 100 meter long sub had been on one week longer visit to Plymouth over Christmas 2006 and left the port with an Admiralty pilot on board to guide her out of the River Tamar.

But the shifting of the pilot to a waiting boat was so late with the sub travelling at 8-9 knots and the sailors on the casing were uncovered to the full power of the heavy seas as the sub left the shield of the breakwater.

The weather forecast was for 40 knot winds and a very rough sea condition. The report, by three senior Royal Navy officers, said it was still secure for the sub to leave but said:" The incident happened because of a mistake by the commanding officer.

"The inquiry ends that the commanding officer was uninformed of the quick change in sea conditions from comparatively start inside to life threatening outside the breakwater."

And the report said the Navy had not succeeded to share the lessons learned from a same incident in February 2006 when three British submariners were trapped on the casing of HMS Sovereign after being struck by a massive wave while leaving Plymouth.

The report was only publicized last week even if it was confirmed in January 2007 and simplified in May the same year.

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