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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Submarine crew back on dry land
HMCS Chicoutimi docks at Faslane
The crew emerged as HMCS Chicoutimi arrived back in Faslane
The crew of a Canadian submarine have spent their first night ashore since a fire left it drifting in the Atlantic.

One crewman died and two were injured in the blaze on board HMCS Chicoutimi, 100 miles off Ireland, on Tuesday.

The submarine and its 54 crew were towed to Faslane, on the Clyde, by two tugs from the naval base.

Admiral Bruce MacLean of the Canadian Navy said despite the accident he was "absolutely convinced" the Chicoutimi had been fit for use.

He told a news conference he believed the submarine was "in all respects ready to sail and go to sea" when it left Faslane.

'Very proud'

He said the board of inquiry would be "absolutely vital" to finding out what happened. Its investigations would begin shortly in Faslane.

The admiral rejected suggestions human error must have been the cause of the fire.

He said he was "very proud" of the submarine's crew and the "remarkable things" they had done in making it back to Faslane but was sorry for the loss of Lieutenant Chris Saunders' life.

The Chicoutimi crew
The Chicoutimi crew were welcomed at the Clyde Submarine Base
Navy spokesman Commander Chris Henderson said the investigation team was gathering in Scotland.

He said: "They need to interview all the crew members and they need to go down into the boat and assess the damage.

"Then the engineers and naval architects and technical experts, who know how the systems all weave together, will essentially take things apart and work backwards to figure out what it was that happened."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a second crew member nearly died after being swept overboard as rescuers battled to attach a tow line to the submarine.

He was rescued by a Royal Navy diver.

The salvage vessel Anglian Prince began towing the sub, which was adrift 140km off the coast of Ireland, on Thursday night.

Taken on board

The Carolyn Chouest, a US support vessel, took over that task and allowed the vessel to increase its speed from three knots to eight or nine knots.

Two tugs from Faslane then took the Chicoutimi on tow as it passed Cumbrae.

A Canadian patrol frigate, HMCS St John's, is also providing logistic and moral support for the crew.

I have a bunch of rock stars on board. I would sail anywhere with this bunch of guys
Commanding officer of HMCS Chicoutimi

Small groups of Canadian submariners were taken on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose to allow them to shower, get hot food and to make phone calls and send e-mails home.

BBC correspondent Mark Simpson said the submarine's commanding officer had reportedly said: "I have a bunch of rock stars on board. I would sail anywhere with this bunch of guys."

Our correspondent said UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon appeared to be saying faults on the submarine were a Canadian rather than a British problem.

Mr Hoon is to meet his Canadian counterpart on Monday.

Seriously ill

The 21-year-old submarine, once the property of the Royal Navy, was handed over at Faslane last Saturday.

But on Tuesday, as it headed back to Nova Scotia, a fire broke out on board, seriously injuring three crewmen.

Lieutenant Saunders, a 32-year-old father-of-two, died from smoke inhalation.

One of the injured crewmen is no longer in a critical condition, although he remains seriously ill in Sligo General Hospital in the Republic of Ireland. The other man is expected to be discharged soon.

The sub being towed by tugs
The vessel returned to the naval base on the Clyde

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin delayed a visit to Russia, France and Hungary by 48 hours in order to attend the return home of Mr Saunders' remains.

The fire on Tuesday damaged the submarine's electrical distribution system and switchboard.

HMS Montrose was first on the scene, followed by HMS Marlborough and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's Wave Knight and Argus vessels, along with two tugs - the Anglian Prince and the Carolyn Chouest.

The fire has prompted opposition parties to accuse the Canadian government of buying "inferior submarines" on the cheap.

Up to standard

The leader of the official opposition has demanded "a full inquiry" into the affair.

All four former Royal Navy vessels are said to have had technical difficulties.

HMCS Chicoutimi was decommissioned in the early 1990s. It was then refitted by Bae Systems before being re-commissioned for service in the Canadian Navy.

Mr Hoon told BBC Radio 4's World this Weekend programme that the vessels had been brought up to Royal Navy standards.

"They had undergone rigorous trials and tests and, indeed, Canada has had the opportunity over very many years of surveying the boats and obviously has been in negotiation with the United Kingdom during that period," he said.




SEE ALSO:
Diver saves submariner's life
10 Oct 04  |  Scotland
Canada defends submarine fleet
07 Oct 04  |  Americas
Crewman dies after submarine fire
07 Oct 04  |  Scotland
Rescue ship reaches sub crew
07 Oct 04  |  Scotland


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