Canada was seeking to replace its three Ojibwa class submarines with British Upholder class submarines, the most advanced conventionally powered underwater fighting vessels in the world. British defence chiefs are now reported to be negotiating with Chile, which also has former British Oberon class submarines, and Portugal.
Britain will not sell to the main countries interested in conventional submarines: Iran and Libya, which have bought Russian submarines.
The four Upholder class submarines are extremely quiet and can operate in shallower water than nuclear-powered boats. During the Cold War, British submarines routinely sailed into Russian ports and even up the great Russian rivers flowing north from Siberia. The Canadian Navy's needs have changed as much as those of the Royal Navy.
The decision that Britain would concentrate on an all- nuclear fleet, with four ballistic missile firing Trident submarines and 12 nuclear powered attack submarines, was taken on cost grounds, even though the conventional submarines could operate in areas of particular strategic importance such as the shallow waters of the Gulf.
Britain had offered to pay pounds 80m to refit and upgrade the four conventionally powered boats, which cost pounds 900m, but would hand them over free in exchange for the use of Canadian training areas.
The decision on the submarines has to be made by the Canadian Cabinet, which was yesterday reported to have said it could not afford to run the submarines "in the shorter term". The Ministry of Defence said a decision was still awaited.
Canada's armed forces have been under severe financial strain. Plans to buy British frigates, Trafalgar class nuclear submarines and EH 101 helicopters have all been scrapped after lengthy negotiations which British industry claimed have cost millions of pounds.Reuse content