About Submarines

W. R. Corcoran, Ph.D., P.E.
Nuclear Safety Review Concepts
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Harry Hall

Monday, January 05, 2004 7:01 AM

USS Hartford Damage is Severe

It seems more and more info is coming out about this. Sad story to read. MMCM(SS) Greg Peterman USN Retired Damage to the Groton-based submarine USS Hartford after a grounding off the coast of Italy in October is greater than initially believed, with most of the bottom half of the rudder torn off and gouges in the hull deep enough to raise concerns about its structural integrity, according to Navy sources.

The sources also said the damage occurred when the Hartford was conducting training drills in the channel as it departed La Maddalena and wandered outside the channel when the navigation team went too long without updating the ship's chart position. The submarine's Global Positioning System was working, and the Hartford navigation team could have easily determined how far out of the channel it was by using that method, the sources said.

Official Navy spokesmen declined to comment on any of the sources' claims. Lt. Cmdr. Robert S. Mehal, a spokesman for the Atlantic submarine force, said engineers and shipyard workers are still assessing the damage to the Hartford, which arrived Tuesday at Norfolk (Va.) Naval Shipyard, where it will be put into drydock.

The Navy said earlier this week it could be several weeks before the damage assessment is completed. Pictures of the hull damage, made by divers off the tender USS Emory S. Land in Italy, show extensive damage to the rudder, particularly the part that projects under the boat, say sources familiar with the photos. The hull is so scarred that the Navy imposed strict operating limits on the Hartford.

The sources said the ship had to make the entire trip at less than 200 feet below the surface. Normally, Los Angeles-class submarines such as the Hartford can operate at depths greater than 800 feet. The Navy also set speed restrictions on its crossing, which was the reason the Hartford took almost a month to make what would normally be a two-week journey.

The sources said the Hartford was conducting man-overboard drills at the time of the accident, operating at speeds between 12 and 15 knots. Cmdr. Cate Meuller, a spokeswoman for the Navy's Sixth Fleet in Gaeta, Italy, would not confirm those claims. She also declined to comment on whether there are any speed restrictions in the channel or whether submarines are free to conduct training drills during their transit.

That would be something that would be dealt with specifically in the investigation, Meuller said. Until that has been completed, we can't comment on any of these issues. The accident happened Oct. 25, less than a month into what was to have been a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean, and only four months after the skipper had assumed command.

The Hartford was departing the submarine port at La Maddalena when it ran aground briefly in the channel outside the national park east of Caprera. It returned to port under its own power. There, divers discovered the damage to the rudder and scrapes on the hull. The Navy has said the accident did not damage the ship's reactor or its weapons, and the watertight integrity of the hull was never compromised. Initial Navy announcements indicated that the damage was not severe. The commodore of Submarine Squadron 22 in La Maddalena, Capt. Greg Parker, who was on board the Hartford to act as the harbor pilot, and the ship's captain, Cmdr. Christopher R. Van Metre, were both relieved of command Nov. 9.

Six crewmen who were part of the navigation party received various punishments for dereliction of duty. The Navy sources said the navigation team was punished because it had not updated the ship's position on the charts frequently enough to guarantee the Hartford stayed in safe waters. In general, the water in that area is deep enough to support the kind of operations the Hartford was conducting, except for one small area where the Hartford grounded.

Mueller said the navigational questions are key to the investigation, but added that she could not comment on any of the claims. Cmdr. William C. Stacia Jr. has assumed command of the Hartford. Stacia is the former skipper of the USS Cheyenne in Pearl Harbor and most recently was the deputy commander of Submarine Squadron 4 in Groton. Stacia has been selected for promotion to captain, and would normally be too senior to be considered for a submarine command, but the Navy wanted an experienced, senior officer at the helm of the crippled ship. A Navy spokesman said he does not expect that Stacia will remain in command for an extended period, though it could be weeks or months before his replacement is identified.

 Update on Incident 

March 19, 2009 Collision in Hormuz


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