A Royal Navy submarine has completed a record-breaking tour of over half a year at sea, adding to existing concerns about safety and crew wellbeing in Britain’s nuclear-armed fleet.  
The Times reported that the unnamed vessel was spotted “encrusted with barnacles and covered in slime” upon its recent return to the Faslane naval base in Scotland. The paper said the vessel was at sea for a patrol in excess of six months.
A statement made by the Royal Navy added that Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden was in Scotland to welcome the submariners home.

Only two of Britain’s four Vanguard-class submarines – HMS Vigilant and HMS Vengeance – are currently deemed sea-worthy. The fleet’s first-in-class, HMS Vanguard, returned to Faslane this year after more than seven years undergoing maintenance, but will not be mission-ready until 2024. The fourth vessel, HMS Victorious, has been waiting to undergo its own maintenance following an onboard fire last year and has only just arrived at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.

Last year, it was reported that the lack of available Vanguard-class submarines meant crews were increasingly serving tours in excess of 150 days. By comparison, the average patrol on the previous generation of nuclear vessels rarely exceeded 60-70 days.

In addition to concerns about the state of the vessels, there have also been concerns about the impact these extended tours have on crew discipline, morale, and psychological wellbeing. The Royal Navy has already opened an investigation into claims by female submariners working on Vanguard-class subs of sexual abuse and bullying by male colleagues and senior officers.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: “It’s extremely irresponsible of the British government and Royal Navy to expose crews to these conditions: not only to such lengths of time away from friends and family, but in vessels that are becoming increasingly unseaworthy. Clearly Britain is struggling to maintain its nuclear weapons safely. That is already potentially catastrophically dangerous without the added risks of malfunctioning equipment or personal error as a result of overtired and stressed staff. This whole project is just a colossal waste of time and resources. The government must come to its senses and call time on its nuclear weapons programme, scrap its replacement, and instead invest in rebuilding our public services.” 

Photo credit: Royal Navy