Having had a chance to digest in detail the MAIB report into the incident involving a British nuclear submarine and a Stena Ferry it’s clear that the decision to site a submarine exercise at periscope depth in a congested shipping lane used by daily ferries, merchant vessels and MFVs was little short of madness.
It does beg the question why areas in the North Channel and also to the East of Co Down (up to the Isle of Man) are designated by the MOD/RN for such exercises.
The United Kingdom has not disclosed various details of the incident ‘for operational reasons’ so we cannot ascertain if this was a SSN or a Missile carrying SSBN. In either case there was not just the potential for great loss of life in a ferry collision but also a major ecological disaster given the potential for debris from not just a submarine reactor but also nuclear warheads. We only have to look at the experience of the loss of Russian submarines in the waters of Norway to see how long lasting such pollution can be.
The Irish Sea has had near misses before. Not once but twice in the 1980s the US SSBN Nathanial Greene struck the seabed just south of the Isle of Man on the first occasion losing all control when the propeller was lost. On the second occasion a major incident was declared the submarine being so badly damaged it had to return to the United States and was subsequently decommissioned.
The governments of Ireland (including the administration in the North), Scotland, Wales and Mann should long ago have called for a moratorium on submarine operations in the Irish Sea by NATO. While this would not remove the threat from continued Russian submarines the chances of their deployment in a ‘sanitised zone’ would be greatly reduced
Image; Fig 1 (from the MAIB report). The area scheduled by the RN for the submarine exercise.
Figure 7 which outlines the four designated areas two in the North Channel and two between the Co Down coast and the Isle of Man
Figure 8 which shows the clear danger of an exercise conducted at periscope depth in a busy shipping channel
The MAIB report pdf
Celtic League Military Monitoring (16th July 2020)