HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879)
HMCS Chicoutimi preparing to conduct camber dive, April 2014
|Laid down:||February 1983|
|Launched:||2 December 1986|
|Commissioned:||7 December 1990|
|Decommissioned:||29 April 1994|
|Fate:||Transferred to Canada|
|Commissioned:||3 September 2015|
|Motto:||Maître du Domaine|
|Status:||in active service, as of 2018[update]|
|Class & type:||Upholder/Victoria-class submarine|
|Length:||230 ft 7 in (70.28 m)|
|Beam:||23 ft 7 in (7.19 m)|
|Draught:||24 ft 11 in (7.59 m)|
|Complement:||48 officers and crew, plus 7 trainees|
HMCS Chicoutimi is a Victoria-class long-range hunter-killer (SSK) submarine of the Royal Canadian Navy, originally built and operated by the Royal Navy as HMS Upholder. Shortly after being handed over by the United Kingdom to Canada she was involved in a partial flooding incident which resulted in a fire at sea. The incident sparked a fierce debate over the value of the purchase of this group of second-hand vessels, as well as the handover inspection process. The accident was later attributed to an error in operational procedure.
Chicoutimi was built for the Royal Navy as HMS Upholder (S40), the lead ship of the Upholder (2400) class of submarines and named after the original Upholder. The submarine was laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in February 1983, launched on 2 December 1986, and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 7 December 1990. Her commissioning was delayed due to a problem with the operation of the torpedo tubes, which had to be welded closed to prevent sea water entering the submarine.
This section requires expansion. (May 2010)
Upholder was decommissioned on 29 April 1994 as a financial measure, along with the other three vessels in the class, following the end of the Cold-War and subsequent cancellation of the programme and amidst some controversy.
The British government was looking to discontinue the operation of diesel-electric boats and offered to sell Upholder and her sister submarines to Canada in 1993. The offer was accepted in 1998. The four boats were leased to the Canadians for US$427 million (plus US$98 million for upgrades and alteration to Canadian standards), with the lease to run for eight years; after this, the submarines would be sold for £1.
Problems were discovered with the piping welds on all four submarines, which delayed the reactivation of Upholder and her three sisters. Upholder was the last to be restored. When work commenced on the submarine, internal steelwork was found to be corroded, hull valves were cracked, air turbine pumps were defective, and equipment was missing used to refit sister boat HMCS Corner Brook (the former HMS Ursula).
October 2004 fire
Chicoutimi was the last of the newly renamed Victoria-class vessels to complete the refit and was handed over to Maritime Command on 2 October 2004 at Faslane Naval Base. Two days later, Chicoutimi set sail for her new home port at CFB Halifax in Nova Scotia.
On 5 October, Chicoutimi was apparently surfaced and running through heavy seas 100 miles (160 km) north-west of County Mayo, Ireland. Both hatches in the bridge fin lock-out chamber were left open and an estimated 2,000 litres of seawater entered the vessel. The seawater caused an electrical panel to short out, which in turn started a major fire and caused all power to cut out, leaving the submarine adrift. Nine crewmembers were affected by smoke inhalation and the ship was left drifting without power in heavy seas.
The RNLI lifeboat Sam and Ada Moody, stationed on Achill Island, County Mayo was put on standby to assist, but was later stood down. An Irish Navy ship, LÉ Róisín, responded to the submarine's mayday signal and set out to assist it, but was seriously damaged by the rough seas and forced to return to harbour. The only other Irish Navy ships available to help, LÉ Aoife and LÉ Niamh were patrolling off Ireland's southern coast. At 2 p.m. local time, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and the auxiliary vessel RFA Wave Knight reached the crippled Chicoutimi, with an additional three British ships en route. LÉ Aoife later reached the area and took over coordination of the rescue and salvage efforts. Other British ships dispatched to assist the submarine were HMS Marlborough and RFA Argus, as well as a number of specialist vessels to handle the situation. The rough conditions in the North Atlantic were impeding efforts to rescue the surfaced Chicoutimi, and a former Canadian naval officer said of Chicoutimi that "[it's] not [a] good surface rider at all. It’s by no means unsafe; it’s just very uncomfortable."
Three of the crew were airlifted by a Royal Navy helicopter for medical treatment after their condition deteriorated. Its original destination was Derry, Northern Ireland, but the helicopter diverted to Sligo, Ireland after one crewman, Lieutenant Chris Saunders, 32, became severely ill. The three crewmen were taken to Sligo General Hospital, where Saunders was pronounced dead. The other two were admitted to the hospital, where one was listed in "critical" condition and placed in the intensive care unit, while another was reported as being in a "stable" condition.
By the evening of 7 October, the weather had abated, and the Chicoutimi was taken in tow by the HM Coastguard tugboat Anglian Prince to return to Faslane Naval Base in Scotland. The tow was later taken over by the United States Submarine Support Vessel MV Carolyn Chouest, which was able to increase the towing speed from 3 knots (5.6 km/h) to 8 or 9 knots (15 or 17 km/h), and reached Faslane on the evening of 10 October. Chicoutimi was escorted into the Royal Navy base by HMCS St. John's, a Canadian frigate which rushed across the Atlantic after the navy learned of the fire.
Following claims made in the Canadian media about the cause of the fire, blaming the United Kingdom for supplying an unsafe vessel, the situation was further exacerbated by controversial comments made by the UK's Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon. Hoon accompanied his condolences for Saunders with a proposal that the Royal Navy would charge Canada for the cost of the rescue while also stating that Canada as the buyer had to beware. In Canada, many Second World War veterans were outraged by his comments. As well as promoting speculation regarding problems with the Victoria class, the incident also sparked debate in Ireland over the country's search and rescue capabilities.
After some repairs were made at Faslane, the Department of National Defence contracted Eide Marine Services to transport Chicoutimi aboard the submersible heavy lift ship Eide Transporter to Halifax. She departed Faslane on 13 January 2005 and arrived in Halifax on 1 February, where she was dry docked at HMC Dockyard for further work.
2009 transfer to Victoria
In April 2006 the Department of National Defence announced that repairs to Chicoutimi would be deferred until 2010 when the submarine was to undergo a previously scheduled two-year Extended Docking Work Period (refit).
From 2006-2008 the Department of Public Works and Government Services worked with the Department of National Defence (DND) to issue a Request for Proposal for the Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract Project (VISSC). The result of this RFP saw the VISSC awarded in June 2008 to the Canadian Submarine Maintenance Group (CSMG), a private-sector consortium led by Babcock Marine and Weir Canada Inc. The initial 5-year contract for the VISSC will see CSMG establish a submarine maintenance and repair facility at DND's graving dock at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria, British Columbia. The DND graving dock is operated by Washington Marine Group as Victoria Shipyards Inc.
Under the terms of the VISSC, CSMG contracted Dockwise USA Inc to transport Chicoutimi from Halifax to Esquimalt. On 1 April 2009 Chicoutimi was loaded aboard the submersible heavy lift ship Tern in Bedford Basin. Tern departed Halifax on 5 April 2009 and arrived in Esquimalt on 29 April 2009 where Chicoutimi was transferred to the CSMG facility.
In January 2014 it was announced that Chicoutimi was repaired and was being prepared to be handed back over to the navy. However, the boat would be limited to shallow-water diving for the foreseeable future. It was announced on 28 September 2014 that the submarine began sea trials that would take seven-to-eight weeks to complete. On 7 December 2014 the Ottawa Citizen reported that HMCS Chicoutimi had completed her sea trials and was handed over to the Royal Canadian Navy on 3 December 2014. The boat was officially commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on 3 September 2015.
HMS Upholder (S40)
The precursor of Upholder (S40) was HMS Upholder (P37). In 1941 Upholder (P37) was granted a badge which contained a caryatid. The ship's captain, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn, described the badge as "an armless Greek bint standing in a dustbin"; and designed his own unofficial badge for the ship. Upholder (S40) originally sailed under the earlier Upholder's official badge, yet was allowed to sail under the badge designed by Wanklyn.
HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879)
The badge's blue and white "V" is in reference to the Victoria-class submarines and the colours of Quebec. The bear represents the bears which are indigenous to the Chicoutimi area. The bear protects a fleur-de-lis and stands upon waves; representing the lakes and rivers in the Chicoutimi region as well as the maritime environment in which the submarine operates.
The badge of Chicoutimi is blazoned:
Azure in front of a pile argent bordered throughout by a letter "V" also argent fimbriated azure surmounting three bars wavy in base argent a bear rampant sable holding in the forepaws a fleur-de-lis azure.
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