Royal Navy Criticized in Submarine Accident Report

Fishing trawler Karen returning to port after the collision.

By MarEx 2016-10-13 20:02:25

The U.K.’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has criticized the Royal Navy for its lack of participation in the investigation into the collision between a dived Royal Navy submarine and the trawler Karen in the Irish Sea in April last year.

On April 15, 2015, a dived Royal Navy submarine snagged the fishing gear of the U.K. registered trawler Karen, east of Ardglass, Northern Ireland. Karen was towed backwards and had partially submerged before being released from the submarine when the trawl warps gave way. The submarine did not surface to render immediate assistance as evidence of the collision on board was either ignored or misinterpreted.

MAIB issued a statement saying:

“Eighteen months ago, the actions of the command team of a Royal Navy submarine placed the lives of the crew of the trawler Karen in danger. Regrettably, the reluctance of the Royal Navy to fully engage in the subsequent investigation resulted in this report taking significantly longer to deliver than would normally be the case.

“The accident happened because of insufficient passage planning by the submarine’s command team and their failure to follow guidance on fishing vessel avoidance. Had its trawl warps not parted, it is almost inevitable that Karen would have capsized and sunk. The collision also presented a very significant risk to the submarine.

“The Royal Navy’s Code of Practice for Fishing Vessel Avoidance was created after the loss of the trawler Antares and its crew in 1990. However, it is apparent that lessons learnt after the Antares accident have been lost. As a result, it is now important that the Royal Navy reviews its procedures and training for the safe conduct of dived submarine operations in the same vicinity as vessels engaged in fishing. By its actions, the Royal Navy also needs to rebuild trust with the fishing industry.”

The report states that the collision occurred because the submarine’s command team assessed that Karen was a merchant vessel, primarily because no trawl noise was heard. The submarine was at a depth where it could, if necessary, pass safely beneath a merchant vessel, therefore the command team would not have perceived any risk of collision. As a result, no avoiding action was taken.

The submarine’s command team had assessed that the majority of shipping contacts in the area were merchant vessels. However, most were actually trawlers, states the MAIB report. This was predictable and should have been identified as a significant risk to the safety of the submarine and other vessels when preparing the submarine’s passage plan. 

The MAIB report is available here.