The damage done to HMCS Corner Brook last summer when it hit the ocean floor was more extensive than first reported, CBC News has learned by obtaining exclusive pictures of the submarine.

The Canadian navy admitted that the submarine crashed off British Columbia in June, but it never described the extent of damage or released a photograph.

"I was gobsmacked. I had no idea that this level of damage had occurred," said Senator Colin Kenny, the former head of the Senate defence committee. "That may explain why the navy took it out of the water at night."

But Rear-Admiral Mark Norman, deputy commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, said on CBC's Power and Politics on Monday that the damage is not as bad as it looks and the navy was not attempting to hide anything.

"When you're looking at your damaged car in the intersection, and you can drive it home, you don't really know how badly damaged it is," Norman told host Evan Solomon. "It is similar to a fender bender, yes. It just happens to be a very expensive piece of equipment."

The submarine's damage was described as "horrific" by Kenny, who said he worries about the state of Canada's submarine fleet and about the 60 sailors who were aboard.

"I think the psychological impact of what can be described as a near-death experience would have a profound effect on some of these individuals. I hope they are getting the care and support that they need," he added.

The submarine hit the bottom when it was 45 metres below the surface. The navy's official board of inquiry blamed Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Sutherland, the sub's captain, for the collision.

The navy released a one-page summary of the board's report on the accident. When asked about the pictures CBC News acquired, officials would only say the damage is being assessed.

Kenny said the navy's response was not good enough.

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The damage to the HMCS Corner Brook was in the area in which sailors are quartered. (Obtained by CBC)

Canada bought four used British subs more than a decade ago and so far, it has spent an estimated $3 billion on the fleet:

  • HMCS Chicoutimi was struck by a deadly fire just hours into its first voyage under a Canadian flag.
  • HMCS Victoria had a dented hull and was restricted from diving deep. The navy said Tuesday the dent was fixed several years ago and the submarine is ready for deep diving, though the crew needs to undergo training and certification.
  • HMCS Windsor has been dismantled in Halifax, with its refit years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

The navy said HMCS Windsor is to undergo trials "in the coming months" and is also expected to be back in operation later in 2012.

Not one submarine is capable of firing a torpedo, however the navy said Tuesday that a test firing of a torpedo from HMCS Victoria is planned for the coming weeks and the submarine is supposed to be operational this year.

Repair costs unknown

Norman said it is still unknown how much it will cost to repair HMCS Corner Brook, but it will return to full operational status.

He also said the navy's removal of the vessel at night was purely an operational move.

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"There was nothing untoward about this whatsoever … it wasn't even logistical; it was more operational … you don't want any waves shaking what's going on." 

He said HMCS Corner Brook was pulled out of the water at 4 a.m. for two reasons.

"The height of tide. This vessel here, which you can't really see, she's in a dry dock there, a sinking dry dock, so we had to get her on top of that at sea. So it had to be done when the depth of water was the right depth so this was done safely," he said.

"The other issue was we wanted to make sure there was no major traffic in the area. Any small movement … could have been serious as you're … lifting 3,500 tonnes of submarine."

Some familiar with the submarine say its pressure hull, the area in which the sailors are housed, may be heavily damaged and that would mean the sub will never go to sea again.

"Canada needs a submarine fleet, and to have this boat not be available would be tragic," Kenny said

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story indicated HMCS Victoria had unfinished repairs. In fact, the Victoria was repaired several years ago, the navy says.
    Feb 14, 2012 5:39 PM AT