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Our submarines will 'live up to the challenge,' navy says

Feb 15 2012

The Royal Canadian Navy has defended its battered submarine program, saying leaked photos of the gaping hole in the bow of HMCS Corner Brook after its grounding make the damage look worse than it is.

Capt. Luc Cassivi, deputy commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific, headed the board of inquiry that investigated what caused the submarine to strike the rocky ocean bottom in Nootka Sound on June 4. He said the review did not focus on the level of damage.

"From what we can see, there is some damage to the sonar rays that are in the bow and there is some leakage of water to the No. 1 main ballast tank, which is external to the pressure hull," he said.

Cassivi said the crash does not appear to have damaged the pressure hull, the crucial heart of the ship that keeps submariners alive under hundreds of metres of water.

"What really is stunning for people is that hole in the sonar dome. It is fibreglass and it took most of what it is supposed to do," Cassivi said. "The submarine is constructed to absorb some of that shock."

Cassivi compared the gash to a cut on a person's forehead, which bleeds a lot and looks very severe even if it is a superficial wound.

Cassivi said the navy was not trying to hide the damaged submarine from the public.

Navy divers had assessed the damage underwater and, because there was no leak to the hull, the boat could stay in the water alongside Esquimalt Harbour until it was moved onto a floating barge Jan.

18. The submarine was moved from the dockyard to the Seaspan careen at Ogden Point on Jan. 18 between 4 a.m. that morning and 9 p.m. so it was in plain view for much of that, Cassivi said.

Now that the submarine is out of the water, an assessment over the next few months will determine the level of damage and the cost of fixing it, Cassivi said.

Cassivi's report into the crash said it was "avoidable" and blamed an inexperienced commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Sutherland, for having the boat 450 metres away from its intended position.

Sutherland has since been relieved of his command and reassigned.

Cassivi said the crew reacted exactly as they should to the grounding, activating the alarms, checking for leaks or fires and assessing the equipment. The boat was able to make its way back to port.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, former head of the Senate defence committee, has said Canada should stop sinking money into the used boats and invest in new ones to protect the country's vast coastline. The government has spent $900 million repairing the boats since they were bought from Britain for $750 million in 1998.

Cassivi said once the submarines are fully operational, they will be crucial in allowing Canada to effectively patrol our waters.

HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor are expected to be fully certified and equipped with torpedoes by 2013, at which point they will patrol the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. HMCS Chicoutimi will be fully certified by 2014 and HMCS Corner Brook is set to be in extended maintenance that will see it docked until 2016.

Cassivi acknowledged that Canadians' confidence has been shaken as they watch the submarine project putter along.

"We fully acknowledge it has been a challenge moving this project forward," he said.

"They are submarines that will live up to the challenge that we have in our bodies of waters. We look forward to proving that very shortly to everyone and putting the speculation and the negative outlook that, unfortunately, the delays in getting to steady state have provided."

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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