Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

HMS Astute Aground

According to this article in the Telegraph, Britain's newest submarine, HMS Astute (S 119), ran aground off the coast of Scotland, and remains hung up:
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...
...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.
Hopefully all works out well for the boat and crew. More information, including a chart of the grounding area, is in this BBC report. I am amused by the British press calling Astute, commissioned August 27th of this year, the "world's most advanced nuclear submarine". Newest submarine class to be launched, yes, but considering she was ordered in 1997, I think I'll take the Virginia-class boats as being more advanced, and the Seawolf-class as being immeasurably better.

Bell-ringer 1015 22 October: Here's a video of Astute aground:

Update 1445 22 Oct: Looks like they floated her off with the high tide.

Update 1858 22 Oct: Here's an update from a local paper. Looks like the crew's going to be getting the Brit version of a RIM (Rectallly-Inserted Microscope) - jobbing. I feel for the poor guys. Having a bunch of press people who don't understand how tough it is to maneuver a single-screw ship without a real keel around in sketchy waters making a bunch of dumb comments, followed by politicians with the same level of input, doesn't make it any easier for for the people who really want to fix the problem. Being the lead boat of the class, this is probably one of the Brit's top CO and crew combos. Sucks to be them.

Update 1808 23 Oct: Looks like the problem may have been old charts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugh. Been there, done that, from the relatively cushioned lifestyle of standing EOOW. Let the horsewhipping begin.

Good move on their part to wait for high tide, at least. Saw some truly stupid shit take place for a while during my experience when cooler heads were not prevailing.

10/22/2010 6:12 AM

Blogger SJV said...

That's just British humor. Most of us don't get it. ; ) As far as no hazard, that's a long stretch. And saying that he left it stuck instead of damaging the tiles is just the wrong answer. Get the boat out of the hazard and then worry about the cost of the tiles. Perhaps there's more to the story?

10/22/2010 6:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I new lessons learned.

10/22/2010 6:22 AM

Anonymous Below Decks Watch said...

i love it! the BBC article said, 'only part of the submarine was stuck.' well just blow the explosive bolts and let the coners go home then.

10/22/2010 7:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@sjv: When the boat is *hard* freaking aground, sometimes your best bet is high tide and pumping every tank you can overboard. Thought before action, in other words.

Sometimes "the hazard" is people in charge who have neither a deep understanding of shiphandling, nor seamanship, nor marine engineering.

10/22/2010 7:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the former CO of the Port Royal could give some good input to the Brits on this one. :-) I believe he too was hard aground after a personnel transfer.

10/22/2010 8:21 AM

Blogger John said...

@ Below Decks Watch - "just blow the explosive bolts and let the coners go home then." Hilarious! I guess that's another advantage to working in the front end of the boat (along with about a thousand others).

I wonder how MSW/ASW systems faired in this event?

In any case, scratch on Brit CO. No doubt he's doing the best he can, but shit happens.

10/22/2010 8:38 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

YouTube video of Astute aground.

Looks like they're snorkeling. That, or "at least their wood stove is still working" as some smartass said at the NYT.

10/22/2010 8:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also looks like the duct for the screw is sticking out of the water, so yup...I'd call that hard-aground.

10/22/2010 9:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NYT article is here.

My best guess is that this is yet another example of a boat that tried to "speed on!" after they'd run aground, as one former squadron commander once said.

It's a very, very bad idea to do this sort of 'escape maneuver' without first considering the possibility (ya think?) that you're already pointed in the wrong direction once you've hit the beach.

10/22/2010 9:12 AM

Anonymous submarines once... said...

First rule of pers trans-small boat goes to where the deep draft has some maneuvering room. Looks like that one was ignored. No new lessons learned-but old ones continue to be forgotten!

10/22/2010 10:04 AM

Blogger Kin Two said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/22/2010 11:26 AM

Blogger Kin Two said...

Dude who took that video had one too many (or one too few) cups of coffee....or were they having an earthquake when it was shot?

10/22/2010 11:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The video was more likey taken from a long distance away and zoomed, multiplying the effects of any amount of shaking the cameraman had.

Either way, too bad for the ship, especially since she isn't completely done with her trials.

10/22/2010 12:01 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

"Perhaps there's more to the story?"

Just a bit...

"The Royal Navy has a nuclear submarine aground within view of the shore, and more specifically a major bridge, where thousands of people are going to see this in person - and likely care." -Galrahn

"The MoD spokesman said: “...While conducting a personnel transfer as part of sea trials..."

Remember just last month when a crane dropped the heavy load on the Astute?

Or, the month just before that when the Astute had to return to port because its anchor broke down?

Either a picture of utter incompetence is being purposefully cultivated, or the Royal Navy's submarine service needs a more secluded practice area. The Royal Navy is definitely NOT incompetent.

That could mean the global publicity is serving an altogether different purpose. Hmmm, what message is possibly being sent, and to whom?

UK forces are currently conducting at the South Atlantic Malvinas Islands.

10/22/2010 12:25 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

@ Vigilis -- Rather than trying to read too much into this, I'd say that the British government announces these problems because they know they'd have a shitstorm if they tried to cover up any problems with a nuclear submarine, and know that word would get out anyway.

10/22/2010 12:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the NYT just now:

"1:45 p.m. Update: The BBC reports that tugboat crews have now pulled the submarine to safety after waiting for the tide to come in."

And that's how that gets done.

10/22/2010 12:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, but the first pic I've seen of HMS Astute underway again comes courtesy of...Al Jazeera.

Confirming non-pic source here via London South East.

10/22/2010 1:02 PM

Blogger SJV said...


Sorry to offend you. Hopefully it requires a pretty deep understanding of marine engineering, seamanship, and and shiphandling to get to be a CO? I don't recall any USN boats ever being flat out stuck, maybe it's because we just didn't have this deep understanding? ;)

10/22/2010 1:11 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/22/2010 1:12 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

"I don't recall any USN boats ever being flat out stuck."

USS GUARDFISH SSN-612 Christmas Eve 1967, entrance to Pearl Harbor. Mistook a shoreward buoy for the sea buoy and buoy-hopped themselves right on a reef.

This is the Submarine Safety Note 28 Oct 1968...

Brief: Submarine goes aground while entering port.

What Happened? A submarine was returning to homeport at night after deployment. Upon surfacing it was found that the bridge hatch was stuck shut. One of the two periscopes was inoperative. The OOD and navigator shared the remaining periscope to conn the ship and navigate. The maneuvering watch was fully manned with the exception of bridge watchstanders. Visibility was not a problem. An apparent gyro error of 8.7ø with the operative periscope was being used. Thirty nine minutes after surfacing the ship had approached within 2 miles of the harbor entrance point and had ordered all stop from speed 12 knots.

Navigational fixes obtained indicated that the ship would pass landward of the harbor entrance point but not to landward of the harbor entrance buoys. Forty eight minutes after surfacing the bridge hatch was successfully opened. The ship had advanced 2750 yards from the point of the all stop bell and was well to the right of the harbor entrance range having crossed the range from west to east. Thirteen minutes after the bridge hatch was opened the ship was ordered ahead 1/3 and then 2/3 to make the turn to enter the channel. The Commanding Officer went to the bridge with a lookout and a quartermaster. The lookout was busy rigging for entering port; the quartermaster was trying to call the signal tower by flashing light. About this time the Commanding Officer assumed the duties of OOD from OOD in the attack center. Neither had the channel entrance buoys in sight although the buoys were on the port bow at a range of about 1000 yards.

Navigational fixes obtained were open to question because of gyro transmission errors in the operative periscope and the poor bearing spread of available navigational aids. A course to enter the channel between the channel entrance buoys was recommended by the acting assistant navigator, an experienced QM1. This course was essentially concurred in by the navigator, however the recommendation was not sent to the bridge.

The two channel range lights and a buoy pair (5 and 6) with the same light characteristics as the entrance buoys (1 and 2) occupied the attention of the navigator and the Commanding Officer (OOD). The stage was set. As buoys 1 and 2 slid unobserved down the port side the submarine went aground.

Comments/Lessons learned:

A missing locking key for the periscope bearing transmitter, a stuck bridge hatch, one inoperative periscope - none of these directly caused the grounding. When the additional factors of haste, pre-occupation with details rather than keeping the big picture, inadequate communication between the navigator and the bridge and inadequate preparations are added, a casualty is in the making.

The sea merely lies in wait for the innocent but it stalks the unwary.

10/22/2010 1:32 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

"I don't recall any USN boats ever being flat out stuck."

USS GUARDFISH SSN-612 Christmas Eve 1967, entrance to Pearl Harbor. Mistook a shoreward buoy for the sea buoy and buoy-hopped themselves right on a reef.

Discussion and Submarine Safety Note here, about halfway down the page:

10/22/2010 1:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as in the USS PORT ROYAL grounding, my first thoughts after seeing photos/video are: "boy, that ship is close to shore." I wonder if it is another case of letting the situation (and the current) get out of control as other, less important things (read: on-time personnel transfers) take over everyone's consciousness.


I'm waiting for the conspiracy theory linking British CO firings to increased opportunities for Naval Academy grads to go to the Perisher course. Which will then improve their chances of taking U.S. submarine command to execute their dastardly plan to promote the careers of women in our submarine force. I know you're thinking it, Vigilis.

10/22/2010 1:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

More advanced than Virginia class? A matter of opinion maybe.

10/22/2010 1:51 PM

Anonymous pc assclown said...

"""USS GUARDFISH SSN-612 Christmas Eve 1967, entrance to Pearl Harbor. Mistook a shoreward buoy for the sea buoy and buoy-hopped themselves right on a reef.

This is the Submarine Safety Note 28 Oct 1968...

Brief: Submarine goes aground while entering port."""

The first comment posted by Rubb Duck since 2005 that actually contained something interesting to read. And it ain't ironic that the writing was not actually his.

10/22/2010 1:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The first comment posted by Rubb Duck since 2005 that actually contained something interesting to read. And it ain't ironic that the writing was not actually his."

That's one more than you've posted.

10/22/2010 2:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back on-topic:

Looks like Astute got freed after 10 hours on the beach.

All of which brings to mind an old song once sung many moons ago in a place safely out of arms-length reach of those who were much more emotionally involved at the time:

"Sub on the rocks,
Ain't no surprise,
When the OOD,
has sleep in his eyes.
We got nothin' to lose,
So now we just sing the blues all the time..."

(With apologies to Neil Diamond.)

Have a great weekend, everyone.

10/22/2010 2:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dropping off some sailors ashore, my eye!

Port lookout: "Sir, there's sheep on the beach!"

OOD: "Assemble the rape and pillage detail. Fall in on the after deck."

10/22/2010 3:36 PM

Anonymous Vagilis said...

This incident is no doubt the fault of lesbian USNA graduates.

10/22/2010 3:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That boat is definitely jinxed. The Black Spot methinks. Har.

How does a boat that size get by with a crew on only 98? That is 40 less than one of ours. I don’t get it. There is only so much you can automate.

10/22/2010 3:49 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

Stupid. Just stupid. Next question?
Once again, failure to believe the fathometer, and failure to be able to drive from the bridge (which we 'imported' from the UK in the Grossenbacher era) result in grounding. Shock.

Just stupid.

10/22/2010 3:49 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

other US sub stuck fast: USS Sam Houston in Carr Inlet. Anyone been to collision/grounding training between 1990 and 2000?

That jackass was allowed to stay in command and was only fired after an entire NSTB was written in his honor.

Once again, just stupid.

10/22/2010 3:51 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

ASPRO also hit the Bolton Peninsula in Carr Inlet, nearly at same spot as HOUSTON.

The folks running the range routinely started boats out on their first run submerged at high speed inbound towards the Peninsula. Tracking them accurately on the range sensors, they then would call TURN to reverse course ... at which point the over-trained ship's crew would put the rudder over 3 degrees just like in open water and gracefully plow right up onto the bricks.

The range tried it on me. I said we go down-range first, slow speed run. 'Oh, OK.' Same data in reverse order. Zero defects.

10/22/2010 4:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carr Inlet's operations were as much a hazard to submarines as the geography. Thank goodness they're gone now.

10/22/2010 4:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it was done on purpose. The Royal Navy is just about about of business anyway. How long before that submarine is sold to india?

10/22/2010 4:44 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Now, BH, taking things at "surface value" is something my submarine background and usual clairvoyance eventually taught me never, ever to do.

Sorry to disagree, but 3 clownish incidents over a three month span!

Since you brought up nuclear, not me, British COs are not always nuclear propulsion people, are they?

10/22/2010 4:52 PM

Anonymous LT L said...

@ annon 1549 How does a boat that size get by with a crew on only 98? That is 40 less than one of ours. I don’t get it.

The Brits have a different approach to operations than we do; not better or worse, just different. They only have two watchsections, and spend the whole time at sea port and starboard. They also do about a quarter of the maintenance that we do at sea: they pull in to fix stuff that we think would be a routine repair at sea. They also split their officer corps between engineering and deck - the guys who drive don't push and vice versa.


10/22/2010 5:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original idea on Virginia class (circa 1999 or so) was to combine various watchstations from the 688 baseline (like torpedo room and machinery room) and get them down to a base seagoing crew of 98 or 99. (with SOF or any other specific mission support peeps being beyond that) Don't know how close they got.

10/22/2010 6:42 PM

Anonymous LT L said...

Don't know how close they got.

When I was a SUBSCOL instructor I worked on the first curriculum for the 774s and got to see a lot of the source documents. The limiting issue was damage control: NAVSEA's design bureau and NR (for example) said that three people were required to operate a particular space; the INSURV and DC folks said a space of "x" size with "y" amount of machinery required five bodies to combat worst-case-scenario fire/flooding/plague/pestilence. Not sure if there was a compromise or if one side "won" over another.


10/22/2010 7:30 PM

Blogger John said...

"The design, development and manufacture of the first three Astute-class submarines cost 3.9 billion pounds ($6.1 billion)."

$6.1 billion for the first three... and it doesn't (supposedly) carry nuclear weapons?

Wow... where does that kind of money come from?

10/22/2010 9:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wow... where does that kind of money come from?"

The taxpayer!

10/22/2010 9:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wow... where does that kind of money come from?"

Savings from laying off 500,000 UK government workers...something we'd do very well to emulate by x3 or x4 in the U.S.

10/22/2010 10:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The USN also has taken out Japanese fishing / training boats (Ehime Maru) near Hawaii when the captain let some friends burst to the surface... 2001. THAT is F:kin' DUMB.

10/23/2010 1:12 AM

Anonymous Fellow Submariner said...

Easy, Brit shipmate. Look around -- you have a LOT more sympathy here than you'll find in the press...ours or yours.

And Ehime Maru was 100% the captain's fault, not the hands that happened to be at the ship's controls (with USN watchstanders right there with them).

10/23/2010 6:11 AM

Anonymous Sierra said...

1.What CO lets an SSN get that shallow?
2.What CO "drops people off" in tidal flats in an SSN?
There is more to this story, not conspiracy and not stupidity, just unfortunate circumstances and powerful magnification.
Theory: Rudder stuck while transiting narrow channel(reasons unknown)= loss of steerageway+shallow water = risk of reactor overheat due to coolant recirculation = Reactor SCRAM, try and drive out of trouble on diesel with propulsor half out of water = crap steerage + strong currents = grounding in shallows. Simple.

10/23/2010 8:48 AM

Anonymous Sierra said...

Anyone here tried to drive a steel tube weighing 7500 tons wet through a turbulent narrow channel using half a shrouded pump-jet under diesel power all with a stuck rudder? You cant just stick out an oar and put in a few strokes.

10/23/2010 9:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look how clos to land they are. The personnel they were dropping off could have jumped to the beach!

10/23/2010 9:29 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the smoke/steam/whatever venting from the port on the sail? As non-qualified, I'd guess it's a diesel motor designed for some specific, non-usual maneuvering situations? Help?


10/23/2010 10:17 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The diesel is running because they probably had to shut the reactor down. The diesel will provide electricity because the battery can't last very long.


Reading the comments in the Brtish paper are funny!

Oh well, the US has had it's fair share of collisions and groundings. At least nobody appears to have got hurt or killed and that is a good thing.

10/23/2010 12:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

USS Tiru SS-416 went aground on Frederick Reef a day out of Brisbane Australia on November 2, 1966. She was finally pulled of by RAN DD and a commercial tug on November 6, 1966. I served with two guys that were onboard when she was hard aground. Checkout her grounding story on wikipedia.

Keep a zero bubble......


10/23/2010 12:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That entire Gold Coast/GBR area around Townsville and Brisbane is tough on navigation. As an ANAV I spent 6 weeks in in the area for port calls and bi-lat exercises...not very fun (ok, the girls WERE fun)!

10/23/2010 12:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely like the Sheep pillaging party theory. Maybe they had a taste for some fresh haggis.

10/23/2010 12:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be hard to get virginia manning down to 98ish unless you completely change subforce mentality on how much work is expected outside of watchstanding. Also, most of the manning is due to in port maintenance. We can frequently go 4 section in engineering.

10/23/2010 6:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Met the perisher student who was OOD when Trafalgar ran aground (as mentioned in the update article). Great sea story involved with that one!

Joel, I think you would have relieved him if you had made it to Hartford. Too bad for him and for you that you didn't.

10/23/2010 7:55 PM

Anonymous SubIconoclast said...

Hard to believe the 'old chart' mistake would affect a modern boat like ASTUTE... don't the Brits use some form of ECDIS? And update their databases regularly?

10/23/2010 8:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steam? I never knew invisible submarines ran on steam. Do they also blow a whistle when they come to shore? Toot-toot!

10/24/2010 7:02 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If its a chart problem then the liable parties would be , the Nav's Yeoman , the Navigating Officer and those plotting the ships position at the time of the grounding. The echo sounder would also let you know your depth so it seems multiple balls have been dropped. Also the practice of overlaying charts with tracing paper to preserve the condition of the chart was prevalent in my time as a Nav's Yeo and is extremely likely to cover a small ammendment like a Low Depth Level warning.

10/24/2010 11:39 AM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

old chart? that's rich. In a spot the RN uses regularly?
"Minimum expected sounding."
Stay on target
"Yellow sounding"
Stay on target
"red sounding"
Stay on target
"Sir, the ship is aground"
"all stop."

TSSBP. Except in the RN, where they stay in command and hope for better results...kind of like Greeneville.

10/24/2010 4:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait - you mean trying to do a PERSTRANS without the benefit of a small boat going between the SSN and the LPD was worth being fired for?

10/24/2010 6:54 PM

Blogger John said...

I found this interesting article today.
(sorry, not sure how to make this a live hyperlink)

In the article, Captain Coles says
- "I'm 47 now and it's time for someone younger"
- "In the old days, you could spin around, see you'd have a close shave and think to yourself, 'I've got away with it'. Now everybody knows". [I believe he's talking about the video periscope.]
- There's another interesting story he conveys about leaving port in a force eight gale, despite ignoring advice not to sail HMS Astute in bad weather.

What do others think?
- Is 47 too old to be a submarine CO?
- Is current technology more of a help or a hindrance to the CO's career? i.e. is it easier for him to get 'caught' making mistakes that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
- Was it acceptable for Coles to make the call to proceed to sea despite advice otherwise because "If we ever needed a test, going out into that was it."

An enlisted guy.
PS My Word Verification for this post is 'subbl'. Cool. 8-)

10/25/2010 10:21 AM

Anonymous submarines once... said...

Taking a stab at the prior post questions-is 47 too old-it is a young man's game and the age of a CO is a rough constant. 47 is on the outer edge of the standard but any prior served CO, if given the chance, would do so at that age and not think twice about it. I suspect he may be more referring to the rapid technological advances (the video screens) than a physical thing. Regardless, no CO should put himself in the close call situation without knowing in advance that it will be there. Emergency Deep is never second guessed and should never come out of the CO's mouth as a surprise.

About sailing in the Gale force 8 storm, it would depend on who was recommending he not get underway. Was it his boss or some staff weenie trying to cover his a$$? Based on the fact that he sailed, then it was not his boss or he would have been canned then-afterall what was the operational necessity???
Just my $.02-

10/26/2010 12:43 PM

Blogger bigsoxfan said...

@submarines once
Joshua Slocum, Sir Francis Chinchester. From a surface sailor point of view, 47 is prime sir, just prime. I have a hard time imagining the demands, on an older man, underwater are greater than the challenges these men overcame. Then again, if I'm wrong, I'm heading below decks for my flame resistant drawers, as I will stand corrected by some experts in the field.

10/28/2010 11:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting piece on the Tiru grounding.

10/30/2010 3:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Figures it is named Astute.
We had a WEPS that was nick-named Crash. No pier was safe.
I remember our CVs had a hard time resisting Cortes Banks.

Vigilis said: Or, the month just before that when the Astute had to return to port because its anchor broke down?

Isn't an anchor on a sub redundant?

Ret - FC1(SW)

11/20/2010 2:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The report is out:

Total lack of situational awareness, primary radar faulty, intercom faulty, secondary radar not rigged, no chart no binos no VHF no plan, skipper in the shower.

Grade-A total fuck-up by CO and officers.

4/23/2012 10:40 AM


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