More Info on HMAS Dechaineux Flooding
An editorial discussing the flooding two years ago suffered by HMAS Dechaineux has some more information that, if we assume the information is true, seems to say the casualty wasn't quite as serious as some of the reports earlier this week might have led us to believe. Don't get me wrong -- any seawater flooding at deep depths is dangerous. Here's what they say in the section headed "Submarine's crew showed its class":
"The "dud subs" reputation of Australia's Collins-class submarines is a relic of the past. The many problems that plagued the submarines initially have been solved and all six Collins subs were declared operational in March last year. Lethal, maneuverable and fiendishly difficult to detect from the surface, the Collins subs are our most valuable defence asset. Without a doubt, their commissioning played a part in the successful bid by their builder, Adelaide-based ASC, to build three warship destroyers for the federal Government.
"But in a sensational cover-story in The Weekend Australian Magazine, associate editor Cameron Stewart has revealed that, on the morning of February 12, 2003, it all almost came unstuck, 40km off the coast of Perth. The failure of a hose in the lower engine room of HMAS Dechaineux allowed 12,000 litres of seawater to flood into the submarine when it was at its maximum diving depth. With the added weight, it was no sure thing the Dechaineux would be able to ascend to the surface, even after the flood had been staunched. And it is now conceded by senior naval sources that, had the flood been allowed to continue for another 20 seconds, the sub - and the lives of all 55 crew - would likely have been lost. [Emphasis mine]
"A few days after the accident, the navy admitted there had been a mishap. But by not revealing it occurred at maximum depth - which vastly increases the risks - the navy can be accused of censorship by omission. This is not good enough. At a cost of $1 billion each, the Collins subs are part of the common wealth. Within the limits of operational security, anything significant that happens to them should be part of the common store of knowledge. A cone of silence around an accident is not what we associate with the Australian Defence Force, and it is not the right climate in which to address the concerns that still linger. As reported in The Australian today, Petty Officer Geordie Bunting claims only a "band-aid" has been applied to the original fault.
"But the overall message from Stewart's article is positive: the extraordinary coolness of the Dechaineux's officers and crew when they found themselves confronted with a potentially deadly crisis. There was not a hint of panic and Captain Peter Scott did not even raise his voice. Two crew members, Greg Sullivan and Michael Morris, risked their lives to save Mr Bunting, who was trapped in the flooded engine room. After 30 months, their bravery has still not been officially recognised - but at least now it can be celebrated by us all."
To me, this sounds like they had a flex break, the flooding was reported, and emergency flood control valves shut, which isolated the flooding after they took on 25,000 lbs of water. I understand that with a diesel boat this is a lot of water to have in the people tank (not as much reserve propulsive "oomph" to drive you to the surface) but it sounds like once the flood control valves went shut the situation was well in control -- as it should have been. The "20 seconds" they're talking about is one of those "what if no action had been taken", i.e. an additional 20 seconds of water was taken on at the same rate. This was a dangerous situation to be sure -- but it sounds like the professionalism of the crew of HMAS Dechaineux turned a potentially tragic situation into one that allows submariners to do what they like to do the most... bitch about Big Navy. I'll start (even though I'm not Australian, as a submariner I feel I have the right to do so...).
If it's true that those crewmen (or crewpersons; this is Australia, after all) haven't been officially recognized for their bravery, then that is just wrong, and I hope this ediorial starts the ball rolling to correct this oversight. As far as the "band-aid" approach of just turning an entire class of submarines into LID boats, I strongly disagree with this approach for any allied nation (adversaries are free to limit their subs' max depth, though). Without getting into too much detail, at some point the engineers are going to have to determine that a) the flex that failed was an act of God, so no further restrictions are needed, or b) the flex was underdesigned, and should be replaced by something that isn't limiting. In building submarines, you spend a lot of money trying to get as deep as you can; a single-point restriction means you wasted the money you spent bringing everything else up to spec.