MacKay says submarine fleet has 'spotty' history

The ongoing maintenance for Canada's troubled submarine fleet is "on track" despite the damage suffered by HMCS Corner Brook from a crash last year, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says, adding that the history of the fleet is "spotty."

Photos show damage to HMCS when it hit ocean floor off B.C. in June

Photos obtained by CBC News show the extent of the damage to HMCS Corner Brook from an accident last June that Defence Minister Peter MacKay described Tuesday as an unfortunate occurrence. (Obtained by CBC News)

Canada's submarine fleet has a "spotty" history and while HMCS Corner Brook's crash was "unfortunate," no one was in danger and the damage will be repaired, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday.

CBC News reported on Monday that it had obtained exclusive pictures of the damage suffered by the submarine when it hit the ocean floor off British Columbia last June. The navy had admitted to the crash but never described the extent of the damage or released any photos. 

MacKay told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa where he was announcing a new base for the Canadian Forces in Germany that the photos show damage to the submarine's sonar dome, which covers the sonar equipment inside. The external pressure hull was not broken and its water-tight capability remained intact, MacKay explained. The crew members were never in any danger, he said.

"However, it was obviously an unfortunate occurrence," said MacKay. The ship is now out of the water and was due to be brought in for maintenance anyway, he said, adding that the full determination of the damage will be made in the coming weeks.

HMCS Corner Brook is one of four Victoria class submarines bought used from the British navy in 1998 for a total price of $780 million. The fleet is also made up of HMCS Chicoutimi, HMCS Windsor and HMCS Victoria. They've now all had their share of problems and have cost more than $1 billion in repairs and retrofits.

All subs expected back in service by 2013

HMCS Victoria's hull was dented and it has been restricted from diving deep, while HMCS Windsor is sitting dismantled in Halifax undergoing retrofits that are behind schedule and over budget. HMCS Chicoutimi suffered a fire on its maiden voyage to Canada in 2004, resulting in the death of a sailor, and it hasn't returned to service.

Navy Public Affairs said Tuesday that the dent in HMCS Victoria was fixed several years ago and while the submarine is ready for deep diving, its crew has to be certified and will be undergoing training next week. A test firing of a torpedo is also planned for the coming weeks and the submarine is supposed to be operational this year.

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

"We hope to have full operational capability in the year 2013, at which point we will have three of the four submarines continuously available for operations. Two on each coast is the plan," MacKay said.

"The ongoing maintenance remains on track," he said. The damaged sonar dome will be fixed as part of the maintenance HMCS Corner Brook was set to undergo, the defence minister said.

"In the meantime, the four Victoria class submarines, which as you would know, the history of these submarines has been spotty, but they were purchased by a previous government at a time when they were offered up at approximately one-quarter of their value," said MacKay. "So the savings up front, I would dare say, are now being applied to the maintenance and the ongoing operations of these four submarines."

Repairs costs for HMCS Corner Brook aren't yet known.  

In question period Tuesday, NDP MP Jean Crowder accused the government of trying to cover up the damage caused to HMCS Corner Brook.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the navy released information about this when it happened back in June. We put out a press release out about it in December so I don't know where the honourable member is coming from, the information is there," MacKay responded.

He then suggested the NDP doesn't want the Canadian Forces to have the best equipment possible.


  • This story was updated from an earlier version to say that a dent in HMCS Victoria was fixed. The earlier version indicated the submarine still had an unfinished repairs.
    Feb 14, 2012 3:03 PM ET