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Nuclear submarine forced into port after merchant vessel collision off Gibraltar

Published 21/07/2016

HMS Ambush alongside Valiant Jetty at Faslane.
HMS Ambush alongside Valiant Jetty at Faslane.

A nuclear-powered Royal Navy submarine has been forced into port in Gibraltar after a collision with a merchant vessel.

An immediate investigation has been launched after HMS Ambush was involved in the "glancing" collision while submerged off the coast of Gibraltar, the Royal Navy said.

The Astute-class vessel suffered "some external damage" but no crew members were injured in the incident, which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said occurred while it was at periscope depth.

The attack submarine's nuclear reactor was undamaged, the Royal Navy said.

Photographs show the vessel's conning tower, the raised platform from which officers give orders, badly damaged, with a large dent in its front.

But the MoD said the damage was "consistent" with a glancing collision. It is not clear whether both vessels were moving at the time or if one was stationary.

The submarine was involved in the accident despite being equipped with what the Royal Navy boasts are "world-leading sensors".

A statement posted on the MoD website on Wednesday said: " At approximately 1.30pm local time today, HMS Ambush, an Astute-class submarine, while submerged and conducting a training exercise was involved in a glancing collision with a merchant vessel off the coast of Gibraltar.

"We are in contact with the merchant vessel and initial indications are that it has not sustained damage.

"The submarine suffered some external damage but there is absolutely no damage to her nuclear plant and no member of the ship's company was injured in the incident.

"An immediate investigation is being conducted.

"The submarine will be entering Gibraltar for further checks. There are no safety concerns associated with HMS Ambush being alongside."

The Astute-class are the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy.

The 7,400-tonne Astute-class vessels, which cost more than £1 billion each, carry torpedoes for targeting enemy submarines and ships and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

New Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning called Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, to assure him there was no danger from HMS Ambush being in port.

Mr Picardo stressed that HMS Ambush was welcome in Gibraltar and the Rock "proudly served as a port of call" for the Royal Navy.

The chief minister said: "Mike Penning is a good, long-term friend of Gibraltar and I am very happy to see him appointed to the role of Minister for the Armed Forces. I have spoken to him today to receive his assurances that the vessel's reactor is undamaged and that there is therefore no danger to Gibraltar from its presence at the South Mole.

"I am satisfied of his assurances and his explanations of the incident. I reiterated to the minister that Gibraltar has proudly served as a port of call to provide shelter to the Royal Navy for centuries and this latest visit is no different.

"HMS Ambush is therefore as welcome today on the Rock as ever.

"In more modern times, Gibraltar has often played host to nuclear submarines, something which the government welcomes as it helps to demonstrate the strategic importance of the United Kingdom and to the Royal Navy in particular."

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