Damage to sub much worse than navy let on last year
Leaked photos of the Victoria-class submarine that struck bottom in Nootka Sound last year show a gaping hole in the boat's nose - damage much more severe than the Royal Canadian Navy initially let on.
The nighttime photos of HMCS Corner Brook, obtained by CBC, show a large gash shaped like an inverted triangle that pierces the rusty vessel.
The submarine ran aground on June 4, 2011, while conducting underwater manoeuvres 45 metres below the surface during advanced officer training. A navy board of inquiry found the crash was "avoidable" and that an inexperienced commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Sutherland, had the sub more than 450 metres from its intended position.
But the navy report played down the damage, saying the boat "incurred damage to her bow and experienced minor leakage in a forward ballast tank."
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, former head of the Senate defence committee, said he was taken aback at the level of damage.
"It was an incredible hole in the front of the boat and I was shocked at that," Kenny said in an interview Monday. "It looked about 10 or 15 feet high and maybe 10 feet wide."
The navy moved the ship from the waters of Esquimalt Harbour to the dry dock at night, and base policy prohibited CFB Esquimalt employees from taking photos of it. Media photos like the one accompanying this story captured the boat submerged in the harbour.
Kenny said naval officers have told him the hole is in the outer fibreglass shell, and does not affect the structural integrity of the submarine's crucial pressure hull.
Retired rear admiral Roger Girouard said "they are pretty ugly looking pictures, I'll grant you that." He added the torn fibreglass is similar to the plastic parts of a car that do not affect how the car runs.
HMCS Corner Brook is at the Esquimalt graving dock, awaiting repair by Victoria Shipyards.
Two submariners suffered minor bruises from the impact of the grounding, but Kenny said he's worried about the psychological repercussions for the 60 crew members after what must have been a traumatic experience.
The navy also played down the disruption in HMCS Corner Brook's training schedule. At the time of the crash, it said the boat was just three weeks away from extended maintenance period that would have it ashore until 2016.
Kenny said photos of the hole will add to the crisis in confidence Canadians feel over the submarine program, which has cost taxpayers about $900 million since the government bought four used Victoria-class vessels from Britain in 1998 for $750 million.
Not one of the four submarines is fully operational.
HMCS Windsor and HMCS Victoria are set to be certified and equipped with weapons by 2013. HMCS Chicoutimi, damaged by a fire in 2004 that killed one officer, is to be in extended maintenance until 2013 and certified a year later.
Girouard said that while it's important for Canada to have strong submarine capabilities, he can understand frustration at the growing price tag for ships sitting idle.
"For folks who aren't savvy about all the maritime issues at play right now, who already are in a place where they're not sure about the value of boats, I guess it does add to that," Girouard said.
Kenny said Canada's navy needs to ditch the battered subs and invest in new ones. Because the four boats are constantly undergoing repairs, there isn't a lot of opportunity for submariner training, Kenny said, which could lead to more serious accidents.
"Having two submarines on each coast goes a long way toward providing security for Canada. If these boats keep on having problems, we should get out of them and we should move onto something that works."
Damage to sub much worse than navy let on last year (external - login to view)