Naval commander found responsible for sub crash

By Ben Mitchell
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The Independent Online

A Royal Navy commander crashed his nuclear-powered submarine into an underwater hill that he had failed to spot on navigation charts, a court martial heard.

Commanding officer Commander Steven Drysdale misread the mound, or "pinnacle", as being at a depth of 723m, rather than 132m, and ordered the vessel to dive down to 250m, the hearing was told.

The court martial at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday heard that HMS Superb was grounded and brought to an almost immediate stop as it travelled at 16 knots through the Red Sea on 26 May 2008. The collision caused damage to the bow and sonar equipment, but there were no casulties. HMS Superb had to abandon its planned deployment and return to the UK.

Capt Stuart Crozier, prosecuting, told the hearing that the submarine had been suffering from technical problems, causing it to lose speed.

He said there was pressure on Commander Drysdale to ensure that the submarine arrived in the Gulf on time for planned operations.

Capt Crozier said Commander Drysdale ordered a new route to be plotted which cut about four miles off the previous route. He also ordered the submarine to dive at a deeper depth, where there was colder water which would allow the submarine to travel faster.

But when the new route was charted by the plotting officer, who did not face the court martial, Commander Drysdale and two other defendants, the officer of the watch Lt-Cdr Andrew Cutler and the navigation officer Lt Lee Blair, all failed to spot the pinnacle marked on the map as 132m deep. Yesterday's hearing was told that new procedures have now been brought in by the Royal Navy, meaning that all depths had to be rechecked when a new route was charted for a submarine. The submarine, which came into service in 1976, was decommissioned, as planned, in September 2008.

Commander Drysdale was sentenced to a reprimand to remain on his record for three years. Cutler was given a severe reprimand for three years and Blair a reprimand for two years.