A Royal Navy nuclear-armed submarine with a crew of 140 narrowly averted disaster, after a malfunction with a depth gauge caused the vessel to plunge towards crush depth without the crew initially noticing. 

The incident happened as the Vanguard-class sub was preparing to go on patrol armed with two Trident II nuclear missiles. According to The Sun newspaper, “dials indicating its depth stopped working, leaving commanders to think it was level when it was still diving.” It added that the vessel was approaching crush depth when engineers spotted the correct depth on a second gauge and corrected the level. A source who spoke to The Sun – who did not name the vessel – said it’s not not the engineer’s job to control the sub.

This is the latest safety incident to occur on Britain’s Vanguard fleet to be reported. In June, HMS Victorious entered deep maintenance shortly after an electrical fault caused by a fire onboard.  Questions have also been raised of Babcock, the arms firm responsible for running the Devonport dockyard and maintaining  the Vanguard fleet.

Ministry of Defence data seen by The i newspaper earlier this month found that “suppliers tasked with providing parts and replacement equipment to the Royal Navy recently missed their targets, with the Government rating their performance as inadequate.” 

The government deemed five contracts inadequate between April and June of 2023. One offender identified is Babcock, who supply and repair of the cooling systems for Vanguard subs. In the 12 months to March 2023, Babcock made £178 million in profit from MoD contracts. 

However, the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear-armed subs by Babcock has been plagued with delays and safety issues, including reports in January that superglue was used to repair broken bolts on a vessel’s nuclear reactor.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: 

“The regularity with which we hear about malfunctions and serious incidents onboard the Vanguard fleet should be a matter of serious concern for the public and the government. The Royal Navy and the contractors who are making millions of pounds in contracts are failing to maintain these vessels properly. It’s clear Britain is unable to do this. Let’s scrap them before lives are lost.”

Image credits: Royal Navy