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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Rescue ship reaches sub crew
HMCS Chicoutimi drifting
It could take three days to tow the sub back. Pic courtesy of the RAF
The first rescue ship is alongside a stricken Canadian submarine drifting without power 120 miles off the Irish Republic's coast.

Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose reached HMCS Chicoutimi on Wednesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after two fires on board injured nine crew.

A doctor and a technical team are now on board carrying out assessments.

A second frigate and Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker are on their way, but bad weather has delayed the rescue.

Medical treatment

The nine injured crew members have been treated for smoke inhalation by the British doctor and will not need to be airlifted from the vessel.

A Canadian commander said the damage on the submarine was more extensive than first thought.

The Ministry of Defence said the Chicoutimi would be towed back to its starting point in Faslane if it could not re-start its engines.

Captain Mike Finney of the Royal Navy told BBC News 24 that conditions on board are "not too bad", as there is lighting and an "ambient" temperature.

He said: "We are assessing the true technical situation on board the submarine and looking at how we can prepare propulsion or a tow - tugs are coming out.

'Significant damage'

"All options are being considered at the moment."

Captain Finney added that the weather would have be monitored in order for a decision to be taken on whether to tow the vessel.

The submarine was travelling to Nova Scotia from Faslane, on Scotland's west coast, after being sold to the Canadians by the Royal Navy and handed over on Saturday.

The Commander of the Canadian fleet said two fires had broken out on the submarine, which caused damage preventing them from restoring power propulsion to the vessel.

HMCS Chicoutimi drifting
It could take three days to tow the sub back. Pic courtesy of the RAF

"Significant damage" was caused to the commanding officer's cabin and the electrical equipment room, which are on separate decks of the submarine, he said.

Most of the vessel's portable fire equipment was used to extinguish the fire.

An Irish ship attempting to reach the vessel was earlier forced back by the bad weather.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary's Wave Knight and Navy vessel HMS Marlborough, from Devonport in Plymouth, are on their way.

They will have to battle formidable seas, with six to eight metre-high waves and winds of 35 knots.

A Royal Air Force Nimrod from Kinloss has also been sent to the area and a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter sent from HMS Gannet in Ayrshire.

Formerly the HMS Upholder, the sub was renamed after a Quebec city

Type: Long-range diesel-electric patrol submarine
Displacement: 2,185 tons (surf.), 2,400 tons (sub.)
Length: 70.26 metres
Speed: 12 kts (surf.), 20 kts (sub.)
Patrol Endurance: approx 8 weeks
Complement: 48 crew, 5 trainees
Diving Depth: 200 metres

An RAF search and rescue helicopter is on standby at Ballykelly in County Londonderry, as is a Royal Navy helicopter in County Donegal, in the Irish Republic.

Captain Steve Upright told BBC News 24 the submarine had been examined and declared fit prior to its handover to the Canadians.

And Captain Finney said: "The early indications of the situation on board Chicoutimi is that the problem is nothing to do with any technical aspect, the design or build."

The alarm was raised by the captain of the submarine, which is not nuclear-powered or carrying nuclear warheads, shortly after 1500 BST on Tuesday.

The Chicoutimi was originally built for the Royal Navy, when it was known as HMS Upholder.

It was bought by the Canadian Navy, where it is now one of four Victoria Class long-range patrol submarines. All are said to have had technical difficulties.

The Times had reported previously that Canada was considering legal action over the vessels.

Yard completes submarine work
29 Sep 03  |  Cumbria

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