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Japanese Submarine Collides With Bulker off Shikoku

japan coast guard
Damaged sail and sail plane of the submarine Soryu (Japan Coast Guard)

Published Feb 8, 2021 3:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force submarine Soryu collided with a merchant vessel as it was surfacing, Japanese officials have confirmed. 

As the diesel-electric sub was coming to the surface off the coast of Shikoku, its sail struck a vessel, believed to be the bulker Ocean Artemis. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told Japanese media that the crew saw the vessel through their periscope but were unable to make evasive maneuvers quickly enough. 

The sub sustained damage to its sail, including the starboard side sail plane and a mast housing containing its communications antenna. The sub was able to continue navigating on the surface but could not make contact with its home base because of the comms equipment damage, and the crew had to transit several hours to reach a position close enough to shore to make a cell phone call. Three crewmembers sustained minor injuries.

The 50,000 dwt Ocean Artemis was under way from Qingdao to Okayama Prefecture carrying a load of iron ore. She was not significantly damaged in the collison and no crewmembers were injured, according to the defense ministry. 

Surfacing is an inherently risky task for a submarine - at least for a sub which is attempting to maintain its stealth. The Royal Navy and U.S. Navy have both experienced serious collisions with civilian vessels during surfacing evolutions. In July 2016, HMS Ambush, one of Britain's newest nuclear-powered attack submarines, collided with an unnamed merchant vessel off Gibraltar. The accident resulted in damage to the sub's sail but caused little harm to the merchant ship. 

In 2001, the submarine USS Greeneville conducted an emergency ballast blow during a VIP demonstration exercise off the coast of Oahu, striking the Japanese fishery training ship Ehime Maru. The training vessel sank quickly, killing nine people.