Sailors in Royal Navy's Gulf flotilla turn to harming themselves

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The Independent Online
ROYAL NAVY aircraft-carriers in the Gulf have been hit by a spate of sailors deliberately trying to harm themselves.

The Ministry of Defence last night confirmed four cases of "attempted self-harm" on HMS Invincible, three of them since Christmas. At least one suicide attempt is believed to have been made by a Wren.

Another four cases of self-harm have been reported on Invincible's sister ship, HMS Illustrious.

Crew-members on Invincible have been subjected to a tough deployment, as the ship was only meant to be away for three-and-a-half months but her return date was changed three times and she unexpectedly had to stay away for Christmas. The ship was involved in a tense stand-off over the Iraq arms-inspection crisis in the Gulf.

Invincible is due to return to Portsmouth at the end of this month, having been away for seven months. Illustrious was deployed in January. Naval sources said such incidents were not uncommon among any large group of people - there are 1,200 sailors on each carrier - and they they were not unduly surprised by the numbers involved. The Defence Ministry said: "All these incidents are taken extremely seriously, because one case is too many."

A spokesman distinguished between "attempted self-harm" and suicide bids. One incident involved somebody trying to inflict an injury to draw attention to a problem rather than an attempt to take his own life. The spokesman said no one involved was seriously ill. He would not elaborate on the nature of the cases on grounds that it was "medical in confidence".

Sources said that in such cases factors such as the reasons behind the suicide attempt were considered before deciding whether to remove people from the ship. Liberal Democrat defence spokesman and Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said: "I am satisfied that everything that can be done is being done for these people. "I will ask in writing to be kept informed of the issue."