240 fires on nuclear submarines
BRITAIN'S nuclear submarines have been involved in 14 collisions in the past 21 years, it emerged last night.
The Royal Navy has also admitted there have been 237 fires on its nuclear-powered submarine fleet since 1987.
However, Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, who revealed the figures in a written Commons answer, said the only collision with another submarine was the one in February with a French vessel in the mid-Atlantic.
The incident involving HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant triggered demands for an inquiry from MPs amid claims the incident had been kept quiet.
The submarines – each nearly 500ft long – were both damaged in the underwater incident, thought to have happened on the night of 3-4 February.
Although the submarines came into contact at low speed and no injuries were reported, both subs were thought to be carrying nuclear warheads.
The Ministry of Defence admitted the collision only after it was confirmed by French officials.
Defence experts believe the boats were likely to have had their sonar systems switched off to prevent detection, instead relying on sensitive microphones.
Some analysts claimed that the crews might have been effectively playing a game of cat and mouse when the incident happened.
Other incidents included HMS Superb grounding in the Red Sea in May last year, HMS Tireless hitting an iceberg in May 2003 and HMS Trafalgar grounding in November 2002.
Vanguard is one of the navy's fleet of four submarines armed with Trident missiles which are based on the Clyde. At least one vessel is always on patrol, carrying Britain's nuclear deterrent.
However, the SNP has threatened to block plans to renew the warheads by threatening to use its powers to make it difficult for large convoys to get in and out of the Faslane base.
In answers to the SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, Mr Ainsworth said last night: "The Royal Navy has no records of collisions between nuclear powered submarines and other submarines and naval vessels, other than the recent incident involving HMS Vanguard and the French submarine Le Triomphant."
He said there had been 213 "small scale" fires on board nuclear boats. The navy reported 21 "medium-scale" fires such as "a failure of mechanical equipment creating smoke and flame requiring use of significant onboard resources".
There were also three fires which occurred while the vessel was docked in a Naval base.
Mr Robertson said: "Any collision is one collision too many, especially when it involves weapons of mass destruction.
"The possible consequences of such a collision do not bear thinking about. The time is now right to scrap Trident and rid Scotland of nuclear weapons."
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