Canada’s sub fleet down to one
OTTAWA — For the next year and a half, Canada’s navy will have only one submarine at sea from its small fleet of four troubled, second-hand Victoria Class boats, Canwest News Service has learned.
And the damaged HMCS Chicoutimi might not be seaworthy until as late as 2012 — two years longer than officials said it would take for repairs — meaning it will have been mothballed for eight years, according to documents recently released under the Access to Information Act.
Of the four submarines in the Canadian fleet, only HMCS Corner Brook is believed to be active. It returned to port in Halifax last month after three months at sea.
HMCS Victoria is in drydock in Esquimalt, where the submarine is undergoing $195 million in repairs and upgrades with a target date to re-enter active duty in 2009.
Three of the subs are based in the East, while one will operate out of CFB Esquimalt.
Canada’s purchase of four used submarines from Britain for nearly $900 million, 10 years ago, has been dogged by controversy, technical setbacks and one notable tragedy — the 2004 fire that grounded the Chicoutimi after claiming the life of one sailor and injuring eight others.
A briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay advised playing down the availability of submarines, in favour of emphasizing they are “an important strategic asset” to Canada’s maritime security.
“If pressed on submarine availability,” the note advises, MacKay should disclose that the Defence Department “has put in place a maintenance regime that plans for at least one submarine to be available for operations until steady state is achieved in late 2009, after which two or more submarines will usually be operational and available at all times.”
In February, the head of the navy, Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, told reporters he expected all three submarines other than the Chicoutimi to be sailing by late 2009.
As for the Chicoutimi repairs, the briefing note says that “if pressed” MacKay should explain “the best way ahead would be to focus on the other three submarines and to repair Chicoutimi as part of that submarine’s already scheduled maintenance period in 2010-2012.”
Military officials have said that they expect maintenance to begin in 2010 on the Chicoutimi, which caught fire off the coast of Ireland in October 2004 on its maiden voyage from Scotland to Canada.