12 Oct 04. The BBC reports that the crippled Chicoutimi was towed in to the Faslane naval base Canada has temporarily withdrawn from service three of its second-hand UK-built submarines following last week’s fatal blaze on a fourth vessel. (See BATTLESPACE ALERT Vol.6 ISSUE 17, October 5th 2004, CANADIAN SUBMARINE ISSUES DISTRESS CALL ON DELIVERY VOYAGE, BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.6 ISSUE 38, CREWMAN FROM STRICKEN SUBMARINE DIES FOLLOWING FIRE)
Canada’s defence ministry said it was confining the three to port while the cause of the fire was investigated. The Chicoutimi drifted for three days off Ireland after the fire, in which a crewman died and two were badly hurt. The vessel, which was decommissioned by the Royal Navy in the 1990s, had been handed over to Canada two days earlier. The development comes as the funeral of the dead submariner, Lieutenant Chris Saunders, 32, is due to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A memorial service for the father-of two will also be held near the Faslane naval base on the Clyde, where the HMCS Chicoutimi was towed after the blaze.
In a statement, Chief of Maritime Staff Vice-Admiral Bruce Maclean said: “It would be prudent to keep all submarines alongside until more analysis can be done on the possible causes of the fire.” A five-member board of investigation has begun a probe into the causes.
On Tuesday, the board’s president, Commodore Dan Murphy, said there seemed to have been two separate fires. One of these was a major fire, which spread through the commanding officer’s cabin on the second deck and an electrical panel beneath it.
The other, a smaller fire, started in an oxygen generator 50 feet away, he said.
“We don’t know the relationship at this point, but it was clear to me there were two separate fires, possibly from separate sources,” Commodore Murphy told reporters.
The investigation may go on to examine the way the submarine was refitted before its handover to Canada, he added. The damaged Chicoutimi remains at Faslane. The other three submarines – the Corner Brook, the Victoria and the Windsor – are expected to remain in the Canadian ports where they are already based.
The four diesel-powered submarines, built for the Royal Navy in the 1980s, were decommissioned in the early 1990s and refitted by defence firm BAE Systems before being recommissioned for the Canadian navy.
The fire has prompted Canadian opposition parties to accuse their government of buying “inferior submarines” on the cheap. Canadian Defence Minister Bill Graham said on Monday that Canada could not yet rule out suing the UK government for compensation. But UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told BBC Radio 4’s World this Weekend programme that the vessels had been brought up to Royal Navy standards.