[ RadSafe ] US Nuclear submarine 'within metres of disaster' off British coast:
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fred.wp.dawson at googlemail.com
Tue Jun 21 09:03:09 CDT 2011
US Nuclear submarine 'within metres of disaster' off British coast: report
An American nuclear submarine came within metres of crashing into rocks off
Plymouth with 'catastrophic' consequences, according to a long-awaited
The nuclear powered submarine came close to a disaster during the incident
in which two of their sailors were killed.
A Royal Navy investigation report says the USS Minneapolis-St Paul became
dangerously close to grounding on rocks in the River Tamar near Plymouth,
Devon, and blamed human failings.
The submarine "came within less than her own length" of hitting rocks as
rescuers desperately tried to save five crew members who were swept
overboard in freezing waters.
Three were plucked to safety by nearby boats but Senior Chief Petty Officer
Thomas Higgins and Petty Officer Michael Holtz, who were tethered to the
vessel, were killed after being smashed against the hull by 20 ft waves.
The incident happened in December 2006 but a report into what happened has
finally been revealed more than four years later
Navy investigators said the incident was "tragic" but admitted it could have
The report said: "This was a severe incident with multiple loss of life.
There was a very real possibility of the boat grounding in very rough seas
and on an ebb tide some 500 yards south of Plymouth breakwater.
"In addition, the crew's mess hatch remained open in these conditions
allowing a considerable volume of water into the submarine.
"Tragic as the loss of the lives of Holtz and Higgins was, the outcome could
have been so much more catastrophic and thus must be regarded as at the less
serious end of the potential spectrum of consequences."
The 24 page report blames human failure and criticised the safety regime at
the Devonport Naval base in Plymouth.
The ultimate responsibility for the "severe and wholly avoidable incident"
lay with commanding officer, Commander Edwin Ruff, who was later relieved of
his post. The pilot was also sacked.
The 100 metre long sub had been on a week long 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 transfer of the pilot to a waiting boat was too late with the sub
travelling at 8-9 knots and the sailors on the casing were exposed to the
full power of the heavy seas as the sub left the protection of the
The weather forecast was for 40 knot winds and a very rough sea state.
The report, by three senior Royal Navy officers, said it was still safe for
the sub to leave but said:" The incident occurred because of an error by the
"The investigation concludes that the commanding officer was unaware of the
rapid change in sea conditions from relatively benign inside to life
threatening outside the breakwater."
And the report said the Navy had failed to share the lessons learned from a
similar incident in February 2006 when three British submariners were
trapped on the casing of HMS Sovreign after being hit by a large wave while
The report was only released last week even though it was finalised in
January 2007 and updated in May the same year
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