A series of problems which have befallen the Royal Australian Navy's submarine rescue vehicle, the Remora, added to its recent failure to regain its safety certification, means there is no deep-sea rescue available for submariners in Australia. In future, any stricken Collins-class submarine - like the boat involved in an accident in 2003, which nearly resulted in a sinking - would have to wait until a rescue vehicle was flown out from Britain...and hope that its new emergency procedures work.
The 16.5 tonne Remora, which can operate in depths of more than 500m, attaches to the sunken submarine and allows six survivors at a time to be brought back to the surface. But a navy-commissioned report in 2005 found the submarine rescue system suffered from "a significant number of high risks," including "failure of critical equipment during testing and operation, competence of submarine rescue personnel and the integration of submarine emergency procedures."
In December 2006, two men were trapped in Remora for 12 hours at a depth of 140m off the coast of Perth when a steel cable connecting it to the mother ship snapped. It took the navy four months to recover the Remora, which was sent back to its Canadian manufacturer for a six to eight month overhaul. However, according to an article in The Australian this week, 20 months later, the navy has still not obtained the full certification for the system to be used again and is now exploring options for a new submarine rescue system.
The Remora being lowered into the sea. Photo credit: Australian Ministry of Defence
The Remora is in storage in Henderson, Western Australia, awaiting sea trials before it can achieve full certification. A key component of the Remora -- its launch and recovery system -- has not yet gained a safety certificate because of new requirements imposed on the global safety assessor, Det Norske Veritas.
DNV has told the navy it needs to strengthen the structure and include automatic controls on its existing LARS (launch and recovery system) before it will grant a safety certification. However, such alterations will cost many millions of dollars, forcing the navy to consider alternative options for a rescue system.
The Royal Australian Navy “will use the UK-based LR5 submarine rescue system as a contingency whilst addressing cost effective and robust systems as future options,” a defense spokesperson quoted by The Australian said. The Australian Defense Ministry says the British rescue vehicle could reach Australia "in an appropriate time frame" but refuses to specify what this is.
"The time to mobilise LR5 to the disabled submarine from the UK will be dependent on the availability of all forms of transport at the time of the incident and the location of the disabled submarine," a spokesperson said. "This system was in-service with the Royal Navy until last month and is a well proven system."