Nuclear Submarine Freed After Running Aground Off Isle Of Skye

(GUARDIAN)

The Royal Navy tonight set up an urgent official inquiry into why HMS Astute, the world's most advanced submarine, ran aground in familiar waters during an exercise off the Isle of Skye.

The accident is particularly embarrassing as it involves a new state-of-the art vessel, the largest British nuclear-powered attack submarine ever built for the navy. It cost £1.2bn and is equipped with the latest stealth and sonar technology, making it difficult to detect under the sea.

One of its tasks is to drop special forces discreetly ashore, and it is equipped with sophisticated eavesdropping equipment.

The boat's commander, Andy Coles, will face a service inquiry and could be court-martialled. Crew members could be charged with performing a duty negligently or ""hazarding"" a ship through negligence. The cost of repairs could run into millions of pounds.

It is unclear why the Astute's long, fin-like rudder got stuck in silt and mud in tidal waters as it was transferring men and supplies via a boat moored alongside.

""It was a question of a manoeuvre going wrong either because of equipment failure or human error,"" a navy source said. Coles was described as very experienced. The 7,800 tonne vessel was eventually freed this evening.

Local lifeboatman Ross McKerlich said he was amazed that the submarine went ahead with a crew transfer where it did. ""These big subs normally lie six miles off Kyle [of Localsh] ... the submarine is stuck in the middle of two rocks,"" he said. ""I have never seen a sub as big as this come this close. Someone's made an error.""

He added: ""Everybody who comes through the Kyle knows how shallow it is there. I have been running the lifeboat for 15 years and had boats for 30 years – I am amazed to say the very least that he has ended up where he has. He's gone inside the two red cans which mark the channel. It's incredible.""