Submarine crew blamed for sinking of Antares
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Friday 10 July 1992
The report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said there had been 'a partial breakdown in the watchkeeping structure and standards' on board HMS Trenchant, a nuclear- powered submarine. It also said incorrect reports from Trenchant led to an eight-and-a-half-hour delay in mounting a search and rescue operation 'which may have contributed to the loss of life'.
The crew of the trawler Antares died on 22 November 1990 when the Trafalgar class submarine snagged its nets in the Bute Sound, north of Arran. Trenchant had been engaged in a submarine command exercise, known as a 'perishers' course.
Control of the submarine passed from Trenchant's captain, to the captain of the command course, and to the student being assessed, referred to in the report as the duty captain. The collision happened when the duty captain was about to hand over to another student. Surface vessels in the area were being detected by Trenchant's passive sonar.
The report, perhaps more critical of the performance of Trenchant's command than had been expected, states: 'The command team on board Trenchant had no clear appreciation of the surface contacts held on sonar during the period between the completion of the exercise and the collision.'
It also says that the Trenchant team 'did not fully appreciate' that there were two vessels within sonar contact relevant to the collision 'going in opposite directions'.
Too much attention was being given to the position of the Royal Navy vessel, Charybdis, taking part in the exercise, and the concentration of the duty captain was 'impaired due to his conversation with the next duty captain in the minutes before the collision', the report says. The command team on the submarine is described as having a 'false sense of security', making 'incorrect assumptions' and failing to properly assess what might have happened on the surface subsequent to the collision. (Banging noises had been heard in the submarine and it was assumed in the control room that a net had been snagged.)
Attempts by Trenchant to establish contact with fishing boats after it surfaced were described as 'not adequate'. Trenchant is described as having resumed its exercise with 'a lack of appreciation of the reality of the situation'.
A fatal accident inquiry, the Scottish equivalent of an inquest, was also critical of the submarine's understanding of where it was in relation to other vessels, and of what if had actually done.
A formal naval court martial last month reprimanded the student officer in charge of Trenchant. Further court martials have not been ruled out.
Since the accident the Ministry of Defence has established operational zones in the Clyde area where fishing vessels are notified in advance of submarines.
The mate of a fishing trawler that caused serious coastal pollution after colliding with a supertanker was jailed yesterday.
The 68ft (25m) Brixham-based trawler Dionne Marie caused a metre-long split in the side of the 118,000-ton Japanese tanker Rose Bay out of which gushed 1,100 tons of crude oil.
The escape led to a 17-day, pounds 1m pollution battle off the Devon and Cornwall coast involving five ships and 16 aircraft.
John McAlpine, 36, the trawler mate, denied watching the 1990 FA Cup final on the wheelhouse television on 12 May.
He was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, half of which was suspended, having pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court to endangering a ship or persons on board.
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