Nuclear sub came close to disaster off Devon

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The Independent Online

A US nuclear submarine nearly ran aground, following an incident in which two of its crewmen died near Plymouth, a report has revealed.

The attack submarine the USS Minneapolis-St Paul was trying to leave Plymouth Sound after a visit to Devonport naval base in 2006 when it hit rocks and became stuck with consequences that could have been "catastrophic", the Royal Navy report, released through the Freedom of Information Act, said.

Two US sailors, Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins and Petty Officer Michael Holtz, died while three others were swept into the rough seas before being rescued by nearby boats. The report said the incident was largely the fault of the vessel's commanding officer, Commander Edwin Ruff, who was later relieved of his post.

It also criticised a lax safety culture at the naval base, the largest in western Europe, including a failure to heed warnings after a similar but non-fatal accident involving the British submarine HMS Sovereign the previous February.

"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 500 yards south of Plymouth breakwater," the report said.

"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."