Royal Navy Submarine Commander Faces Dismissal over Red Sea Crash

Commander Steven Drysdale, officer of the watch Lieutenant Commander Andrew Cutler and navigation officer Lieutenant Lee Blair all admitted an offence of neglecting to perform their duty at a previous hearing.

The court martial at Portsmouth Naval Base was told that the charge relates to the grounding of HMS Superb as it travelled through the Red Sea on May 26 2008.

Captain Stuart Crozier, prosecuting, told the hearing that the submarine had been suffering from technical problems, causing it to lose speed.

He said there was pressure on Drysdale to ensure the submarine arrived in the Gulf on time for planned operations. Capt Crozier said Drysdale ordered a new route to be plotted which cut about four miles off the previous route.

He also ordered the submarine to dive at a deeper depth where there was colder water, allowing the submarine to travel faster. The new route was to be travelled at a depth of 250 metres rather than the planned depth of 100 metres.

But when the new route was charted by the plotting officer, who does not face the court martial, all three defendants failed to spot the pinnacle marked on the map as 123 metres deep. The hearing was told that the pinnacle, which was the sole shallow point in the area, was highlighted on other charts but these were not used by the submarine crew because they had not been approved for navigation.

Capt Crozier said that when the submarine collided with the pinnacle, the vessel was brought to an almost immediate halt. He said: ”The submarine collided with the underwater obstacle reducing its speed from 16 knots to three knots in a very short time.”

He added: ”There was a significant amount of damage to the forehead of the submarine but no casualties.”

Capt Crozier explained that because the margin of error used when charting the original route should have been adequate to identify any shallow points, no new check was made for potential dangers along the new route.

He said: ”All three looked at the chart. No thorough check was made as to the depths in relation to the decision to take the submarine to this dive depth (250 metres).

”The new navigational track went directly over the pinnacle which showed 132 metres. ”This fact had not been seen by the plot officer or officer of the watch (Cutler) and neither had the chart been properly checked after the decision to alter course. ”This pinnacle had also been missed by Blair and the commanding officer (Drysdale).”

The court martial was told that checking the chart would have been made more difficult because the line of the new route had been drawn directly across the spot where the pinnacle lay on the map, making it difficult to see.

The hearing was told that new procedures had now been brought in by the Royal Navy meaning that all depths had to be rechecked when a new route was charted for a submarine.

Cdr Alison Towler, representing Drysdale, told the court that the commanding officer had since been moved to a desk job. She added that the service had also stopped Drysdale from taking up the high-profile position of Royal Navy staff officer submarines in Washington DC, USA, shortly after the incident.

She said that Drysdale, who has served in the navy for 25 years, had inspected the chart but had misread the depth of the pinnacle as 723 metres rather than 123 metres.

She said: ”Cdr Drysdale wishes to express his deep remorse and regret in relation to the incident which has led to this court martial. ”He fully accepts his responsibility in relation to this matter.” Cdr Joe Turner, representing Cutler, said: ”He regrets the incident and fully accepts his responsibility.

”He will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life. He expresses his full remorse.” Cdr Stuart Wright, representing Blair, said that the navigation officer was ”fatigued” at the time of the crash having lost his signal communications officer to illness.

He said that since the incident Blair had been involved in officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College but would be once again taking up a post of navigation officer on-board the submarine HMS Turbulent later this month.

Cdr Wright said: ”That is a measure of the confidence the service has in this very capable young man.” The collision caused damage to HMS Superb’s bow and its sonar equipment causing it to have difficulty diving. The submarine had to abandon its planned deployment but was able to return to the UK under its own power, the hearing was told.

The submarine, which came into service in 1976, was decommissioned in September 2008 although the MoD has said the accident had not led to the submarine being taken out of service earlier than already planned.

Cdr Towler said that this withdrawal from service had also meant the financial impact of the accident had been kept to a minimum. Drysdale pleaded guilty to ”failing to ensure the safe direction” of the submarine while Cutler pleaded guilty to ”failing to supervise the plot officer adequately”.

Blair pleaded guilty to ”failing to take into account all the dangers in or near the planned movements of HMS Superb”. Source; (The Telegraph)