Navy seeks gear to get air to subs
Government looking for pieces of emergency ventilation system
By CHRIS LAMBIE Staff Reporter
Tue. Feb 24 - 5:34 AM
The navy is acquiring gear that will allow it to provide fresh air to its used submarines if they get stuck on the sea floor.
The federal government issued a notice Monday that it plans to buy pieces of a submarine emergency ventilation and decompression system.
"This system is to be used in event of a disabled submarine that has been immobilized and is resting on the sea bottom in a given depth of water," says the advanced contract award notice.
"Through the use of this system, the atmosphere inside the (disabled sub) can be continuously supplied with fresh breathing air, ventilated, and pressure-controlled from the surface to preserve life aboard the submarine until such time that the personnel can escape or be rescued."
The navy is only buying "a small portion" of the life-saving system now, says the notice. The purchase includes 24 receiving fittings and four adapter units.
The receiving fittings will be installed on all four of the diesel-electric subs as modifications to the salvage fittings they already carry.
"There is one set of salvage fittings per watertight compartment and the sub is divided into three watertight compartments, thus there will be six receiving fittings installed on each submarine for a total requirement of 24," says the notice.
"The submarine adapter units (to be stored on each coast) are the link between the receiving fitting on the (disabled sub) and the surface-supplied ventilation and decompression system."
In the case of an accident, the navy would use a surface supply system to get air into a disabled sub via the gear they are now buying, says the notice.
"This asset has not yet been acquired and will be requisitioned through another project. Many NATO countries (Spain, France, among others) currently possess and operate submarine emergency ventilation and decompression equipment, and these countries would offer their services in the event of a Canadian (disabled sub) scenario. Though the individual systems vary country by country, all are equipped with a NATO-standard coupling, which forms a link between the surface supply and the (disabled sub)."
The NATO coupling is located between the submarine adapter unit and the surface supply, says the notice.
"At present, the Victoria-class submarines are not configured to receive ventilation and decompression services through the NATO-standard coupling. Acquiring the submarine adapter unit and the submarine receiving fittings will provide this capability immediately, and thus provide Canadian submarines with this vital life-saving capacity."
There is no price for the modifications listed in the notice, which says "the government intends to negotiate with one firm only," OceanWorks International Corp. It has offices in Burnaby, B.C., and Houston, Texas.
Initially, Derek White, a sales engineer with the company, said the gear is likely to cost "in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars" and the price tag could top $1 million. He later called back to say that price was not accurate but could provide no other numbers.
The equipment has never been used in a real sub rescue.
When the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in August 2000, Russian authorities held off asking for outside assistance until hope was nearly exhausted; all 118 crew members died. All 129 crew aboard the USS Thresher died on April 10, 1963, when the vessel had a cataclysmic structural failure during sea trials southeast of Cape Cod, Mass.
"Submarines are built with redundancy in their systems," Mr. White said. "For something to fail catastrophically, it’s either a collision or it’s a very rare event likely caused by some sort of human failure."
The United States navy deployed one of the submarine emergency ventilation and decompression systems in 2005 when a Russian mini-submarine got entangled in fishing nets deep in the Pacific, leaving the seven men inside struggling with rapidly decreasing water and oxygen supplies while waiting anxiously in the darkness and cold.
But a British remote-controlled Scorpio underwater vehicle freed the submarine from fishing nets.
"The Brits got there first," Mr. White said.
If a Canadian sub was stuck on the sea floor, the ventilation system could be used to keep submariners alive until a rescue vehicle could be flown in from San Diego, Calif., he said.
"What we’re doing is extending their life support, so we’re ventilating — getting rid of noxious gases if there’s a fire on board," Mr. White said. "If there is pressurization, we’re depressurizing that to get rid of decompression sickness when they get to the surface."
Canada purchased four mothballed subs from the Royal Navy in the late 1990s for almost $900 million after the British decided to go with an all-nuclear sub fleet. Reactivating the subs has been a huge challenge for the navy, especially in the aftermath of a fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi in October 2004.