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Video Shows ‘Stealth’ Nuclear Submarine Stuck in Scottish Mud

By ROBERT MACKEY

Video uploaded to YouTube on Friday by a wildlife biologist on Scotland’s Isle of Skye shows a Royal Navy submarine that ran aground just off the coast.

3:57 p.m. Update: The BBC reports that tugboat crews successfully pulled the submarine to safety after waiting for the evening tide to come in. My colleague John Burns has more on the grounding of the submarine and the operation to free it from the silt.

For all the talk about which high-tech weapons systems the British military might have to do without as the country slashes budgets to reduce its debt, officers in the Royal Navy must be glad they still have tugboats and ropes at their disposal, since those were what they were using Friday to try to dislodge a nuclear submarine that ran aground just yards off the coast of Scotland.

Video of H.M.S. Astute, and the tugboat that was trying to pull it to deeper water, was shot and posted on YouTube by Paul Yoxon, a wildlife biologist on the Isle of Skye, who normally uploads  images of rescued and rehabilitated otters being released into the wild.

The BBC reports that the new nuclear submarine has been described as Britain’s “stealthiest” because of “39,000 acoustic panels which cover its surface mask its sonar signature, meaning it can sneak up on enemy warships and submarines alike, or lurk unseen and unheard at depth.”

Right now, though, the Astute would have a hard time sneaking up on an otter, as Helen Birch, a colleague of Mr. Yoxon’s at the International Otter Survival Fund on the Isle of Skye, confirmed in a telephone interview with The Lede minutes ago. After explaining that Mr. Yoxon had shot the video of the beached submarine uploaded to YouTube, Ms. Birch was kind enough to put the phone down, go to an upstairs window of the otter group’s offices and look to make sure that the Astute was still stuck. It was.

Britain’s defense ministry posted a short statement on its Web site, assuring the public that the stranded Astute posed no danger:

We are aware of an incident involving one of our submarines off the Isle of Skye. This is not a nuclear incident. We are responding to the incident and can confirm that there are no injuries to personnel and the submarine remains watertight. There is no indication of any environmental impact.

Another resident of Skye, Ross McKerlich, told the BBC that he was surprised to see the submarine outside his home when he awoke this morning. He added:

There was a helicopter hovering over the top — it’s now gone back and there are two Naval vessels from the local base, Kyle of Lochalsh, standing off to the north of her. Earlier in the day they did have ropes and they were trying to tow but now the tide has gone back and they’re just standing off.

The Guardian notes, “The submarine’s nuclear reactor means that it will not need refueling once in its entire 25-year life.” The newspaper added that a local official, Mike Taylor, said that residents are not worried about a nuclear accident since, “We have lived with nuclear subs up here for 30 to 40 years.”

The accident has, however, drawn attention to plans to save money in the area by taking sea-going tugboats, like the one trying to pull the Astute to safety, out of service, another local official told the Guardian.

That the stealth submarine is currently so hard to miss brings to mind the mocking Serbian apology offered in 1999 after its military shot down an American F-117A stealth fighter during NATO’s bombing campaign on behalf of Kosovo’s Albanian population: “Sorry, we didn’t know you were invisible.”

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