The chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, has hit back at an ABC News report that warned the Navy’s fleet of submarines had “limited ability” to save trapped submariners.
“I reject the premise in the ABC article, ‘Veteran warns Australia’s Collins Class submarine fleet has limited ability to save trapped submariners’, that our submarines are not safe, or that Defence is not providing a safe work environment for our submariners,” Noonan said in a statement released Wednesday. “Their safety is our number one priority. Royal Australian Navy submariners are a professional force, trained and equipped to manage all possible eventualities related to submarine operations.
“Defence has an existing contracted submarine escape and rescue service provider that is certified to provide services for all likely scenarios and operational areas under which submarine rescue would be performed,” Noonan added. “Australia is also a member of an international coalition established by NATO to provide submarine escape and rescue services globally. This coalition was established to provide global support to submarine rescue operations. Navy’s rescue systems are annually tested and certified through Exercise Black Carillion, currently being conducted off Western Australia.”
In the ABC report, a former Navy clearance diver who helped produce the first rescue system for Australia’s Collins Class submarines has warned the fleet’s interim safety equipment has limited ability to save trapped submariners. Last week the ABC revealed Defence was considering cancelling a A$297 million contract with a US company to provide a new “submarine escape rescue and abandonment system” by 2022.
The revelations have prompted a 50-year veteran of the military to warn Australia’s ageing submarine rescue system has severe limitations and any delays in acquiring a replacement could open a dangerous capability gap. Captain Anthony “Dusty” Miller, who helped introduce the “Remora” remotely operated rescue vehicle to Australia in 1995, said he was speaking out publicly over deep concerns held within the submariner community. “Seeing what’s happening today with the possible cancellation of the current contract, myself and others are very concerned with the safety consequences from this,” he told the ABC.
Since 2009 the Royal Australian Navy has operated the British manned LR5 submersible for its Collins Class fleet, but the system is scheduled to reach its end of life in 2024, ABC reported.