domingo, 25 de maio de 2008

Nuclear sub crashes after 'tracing paper blunder'

LONDON (AFP) — A British nuclear submarine crashed into the seabed after tracing paper was used to help plot its course during a training exercise, obscuring vital symbols from student commanders, reports said Friday.

The hunter-killer sub HMS Trafalgar needed five million pounds' worth of repairs after the incident, which occurred off the coast of western Scotland.

Three crewmen were injured after the 5,200-tonne submarine steered into the seabed at a depth of 165 feet (50 metres) off the Isle of Skye in 2002, according to a Ministry of Defence inquiry report cited by press reports.

The trainee officers were undergoing a test called "Pressure Cooker," to simulate a real-life situation. As well as tracing paper, Post-It notes were also stuck on maps while the sub's satellite navigation system was turned off.

The speed of tidal water flow was also miscalculated. "The chart became increasingly untidy... and elementary mistakes were made with the generation of the estimated position," said the report, cited by the Telegraph and Times.

One and a half minutes before the impact, someone in the sub's command room was quoted as saying: "We're going to have to change course. This is too dangerous."

But it was too late, and the vessel crashed into the increasingly shallow seabed at a speed of 16 miles per hour (26 kilometres per hour).

"On impact, the ship's head was forced to starboard and there was a rapid deceleration, forcing most people to lose their balance and causing at least three minor injuries," said the report.

According to the Times, immediately after the collision the vessel's commander, Robert Fancy, ordered the sub to surface to check there was no damage to the hull or the nuclear reactor.

The vessel was safe, but extensive repairs were needed. In addition the ministry report noted that: "Nuclear submarines should only conduct training of this nature if the arrangements for navigational safety are infallible."

HMS Trafalgar is one of seven Trafalgar-class submarines in the Royal Navy. Some 85 metres (279 feet) long and able to carry 130 crew, they are armed with Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles.

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