Submariners’ ‘emergency service’ received the ultimate work-out in the eastern Mediterranean as NATO navies came together to practise saving crew from stricken boats.
Experts from nine allied nations committed submarines, submersibles, rescue vessels, specialist medics, helicopters and divers – the full panoply of services available to trapped crews – for a two-week exercise in the Mediterranean.
Every three years NATO gives its various methods of rescue and escape a full run-out – Exercise Dynamic Monarch – this year played out near Aksaz Naval Base on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast.
Each day three boats – two from the host nation and one from Spain – pretended to be DISSUB (submarines in distress) whose crew required assistance.
Up to 600ft, submariners are expected – if possible – to effect their own escape using their special immersion suits.
Beyond that depth, rescue submersibles are the order of the day, ‘mating’ with escape hatches on the stricken submarine (in NATO these follow a standard design).
The RN – together with France and Norway – operates the NATO Submarine Rescue Service. Based at Faslane, run from Abbey Wood, it’s at immediate notice to go anywhere in the world whenever the haunting signal SUBMISS (‘Submarine missing’) is received.
Everything revolves around the rescue submersible, Nemo, but the ‘rescue suite’ extends far beyond the rather ungainly-looking sub: a launching system, plus a medical complex (including large decompression chamber) and several workshops operating from a commercial support ship.
Nemo can rescue 15 people – or two serious casualties on stretchers – per dive. That’s a small diesel boat emptied in three trips, nine should anything happen to a Royal Navy V-boat.
The submersible carried out 16 dives, from finding target plates 240ft below on the sea bed to reaching depths of more than 720ft.
Cdr Gennaro Vitagliano of the Italian Navy underlined the difference between Dynamic Monarch and most other NATO work-outs.
“This is not about a war exercise,” he stressed. “We are talking about saving a life. For us, it’s important brotherhood; for us it’s important to be here and be ready to save a life, whatever country this life belongs to.”
The exercise reached its climax with a 36-hour mass evacuation exercise testing not just Nemo’s handlers, but the whole apparatus and operators as ‘casualties’ were brought up from the depths, and transferred directly from the rescue sub into the hyperbaric chamber, where they decompressed over the next four hours with the help of nearly four dozen medics and divers.
“The exercise was a positive experience for the NATO Submarine Rescue System,” said project manager Cdr Ian Duncan.
“All serials were completed without incident or injury and five rescue chamber operators successfully achieved their qualifications.”