Saturday: Canadians buy submarine from MoD
Last night: Fire leaves vessel adrift in Atlantic

An air-sea rescue was under way in the North Atlantic last night after a fire on a former British submarine sold to Canada in a controversial deal left the vessel drifting at sea.

An air-sea rescue was under way in the North Atlantic last night after a fire on a former British submarine sold to Canada in a controversial deal left the vessel drifting at sea.

The incident will come as a huge embarrassment for the Ministry of Defence, coming only four days after the vessel was formally handed over to the Canadians. It was the last of four such submarines bought in a deal dogged by escalating costs, delays and reports of corrosion, leaks, turbine breakdowns and other technical faults encountered during their refits. Only one is on active service. Some reports have suggested that Canada is considering suing Britain over the deal.

The blaze led to a loss of power on HMCS Chicoutimi about 100 miles north-west of Ireland. Nine of its 57-strong crew suffered breathing problems after smoke spread through the vessel. It had to surface to clear the fumes and the injured were being treated on board.

A senior Canadian official, speaking at 6pm British time yesterday, said a towing vessel, the HMS Montrose, a Type-23 frigate, would take between 12 to 14 hours to reach the submarine. "The boat is without power and has only limited means of communicating," Navy Commodore Tyrone Pyle told reporters in Halifax. He said there had been no danger of losing the craft.

Another Canadian navy spokesman said the rescue operation was being blighted by the weather. "The seas are extremely treacherous, with six to eight metre waves and winds of 35 knots," he said. "It's going to be extremely difficult for the ships to make it out there and the sailors [on the submarine] are getting tossed to and fro something crazy. They will have a certain amount of battery-powered emergency lighting, but will be trying to conserve it."

The rescue would also be difficult, he said. "It's going to be extremely dangerous for someone to be on board that frigate throwing a line and even more dangerous for someone from the submarine crew to be outside trying to tie that up."

The spokesman said the root of the fire had been an electrical panel in a passageway. The navy had assembled investigation teams, "but our main focus right now is to keep those 57 people safe".

Formerly HMS Upholder, the submarine is a non-nuclear diesel electric "hunter-killer" vessel built for the Royal Navy in the early 1990s. The submarine left the naval base at Faslane in Scotland on Monday heading for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it was due to arrive on 18 October.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said events were being monitored second by second. He added: "The decision on evacuation has to be balanced against the consequence of leaving the vessel without a crew."

An RAF Nimrod from Kinloss was in the area to help with communications, while a Royal Navy search and rescue helicopter flew from Prestwick. Ireland's Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, said the LE Roisin, which was on routine patrol off the north-west coast, should arrive at the sub about midnight. It would offer help and monitor any threats to Irish waters. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Knight, a fleet replenishment vessel, was also standing by.

The four submarines were designed in the 1970s and built in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were deemed surplus to requirements before work was completed after Britain decided to use only nuclear-powered vessels. The C$750m (£333m) deal to sell them to Canada was agreed in 1998. But according to reports in Canada, the total cost of the deal has now risen by 20 per cent to C$897m, as a result of technical faults and rust, which caused particular problems on the Chicoutimi.

Documents released under the Canadian freedom of information laws suggest that the MoD "cannibalised" the submarine for spare parts to get the three other vessels in working order. One suggested that the Canadians were forced to pay for an extra 5,500 replacement parts.

The delivery of the Chicoutimi was delayed by corrosion on its pressure-hull and the replacement of cracked hull valves and air turbine pumps.

A Canadian navy incident report said crews faced "a potential safety risk" and that computer systems "freeze" and lose data. When equipment did work, it did so at a speed "unsuitable for operational conditions".

BAE, which undertook the refit, has defended the delays, saying the submarines had been in the water for a long period. It declined to comment last night.

Of the four other submarines, HMCS Windsor, formerly HMS Unicorn, is the only one in service. HMCS Corner Brook, formerly HMS Ursula, is being repaired, while HMCS Victoria, formerly HMS Unseen, is to undergo sea trials this autumn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before