Nuclear sub 'Tireless' heads home after year of repair and recrimination

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The Independent Online

A nuclear submarine was heading home to Britain from Gibraltar yesterday, ending a year of strained relations with the Spanish government and environmentalists. HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class boat equipped with Tomahawk missiles, arrived in Gibraltar last May with a crack in her reactor's cooling system and leaking a small amount of contaminated water into the sea.

A nuclear submarine was heading home to Britain from Gibraltar yesterday, ending a year of strained relations with the Spanish government and environmentalists. HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class boat equipped with Tomahawk missiles, arrived in Gibraltar last May with a crack in her reactor's cooling system and leaking a small amount of contaminated water into the sea.

The lengthy repair has been punctuated by protests from the environmentalists, Gibraltarians and people in southern Spain, who wanted the boat removed. British officials and the Spanish government maintained the risks were negligible, but other submarines in the same class were taken out of service while equipment was devised to carry out repairs safely, removing the need for direct human intervention in the enclosed space.

The president of the Cadiz provincial government, Rafael Roman, said the departure of Tireless marked the end of "a black era" in which Spain had shown "an insufferable servitude towards the United Kingdom". Local officials and environmental groups were concerned at the precedent set by the boat's presence. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, said he welcomed her departure, but added: "Gibraltar continues to be a place where nuclear berthing facilities will be used for normal visits."

The presence of the submarine revived debate about the colony's status and tested the close relationship between Tony Blair and Spain's centre-right Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Mr Aznar, under pressure from the Socialist opposition, suggested last December that Britain take the submarine home for the repair, although experts said moving her would create a greater risk.

Spain has long sought the return of Gibraltar, the fortress dominating the western entrance to the Mediterranean. It was reluctantly ceded to Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.

Tireless, escorted by Royal Navy patrol boats, is believed to be heading for Devonport, near Plymouth.

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