The grounding of the £1.2 billion Astute hunter-killer comes at the end of a dire week for the Royal Navy which has seen its carrier force halved, Harrier jump jets axed and warship force reduced by almost a quarter.
It is understood that the boat, which is first in its class, ran aground by its stern in a manoeuvre that “went slightly wrong” after it had dropped some sailors ashore in tidal waters off the Isle of Skye.
As the tide rapidly ebbed it is thought the skipper of Astute, Commander Andy Coles, decided not to power it off the obstruction as it would risk damaging the hull that carries some of the most advanced acoustic tiles that make Astute virtually undetectable beneath the seas.
Navy insiders insisted that there was no likelihood of a nuclear reactor leak or any other environmental issue. No one was injured in the incident that happened earlier today. It came the morning after Trafalgar Day, where sailors celebrated the 205th anniversary of Nelson’s victory.
“Astute ran aground by her very stern earlier this morning as she was transferring people ashore,” a Navy spokesman said. “There’s no nuclear issue or no environmental issue that we are aware of and no one has been hurt.” The submarine, which carries a crew of 98, will now wait until later today for tug boats to pull her off when the tide comes in.
Astute, which was handed over to the Navy by its builders BAE Systems in late August, will then continue her sea trials. It is not known whether the boat, which can carry up to 38 Tomahawk cruise missiles and Spearfish torpedoes, was carrying any weapons.
At 7,200 tonnes the Astute is the biggest British nuclear attack submarine ever built, although it is half the size of the Trident nuclear submarines at 16,000 tonnes. The boat’s nuclear reactor will never need refueling during its 35 year life.
Amid the gloom of Navy cuts, which will see the Senior Service reduced by 5,000 sailors to 30,000, there was some celebration following publication of the defence review on Tuesday after it was announced the seventh and final Astute-class submarine would be ordered.
However the incident comes on the back of a number of submarine accidents in the last few years – Telegraph