A US nuclear submarine has "struck an object" while submerged in the South China Sea – and the US Navy is insisting that it wasn't a Chinese submarine.
Almost a dozen sailors were reportedly injured in the underwater collision, according to the US Naval Institute's news offshoot. The submarine was operating in the South China Sea, but was in international waters at the time of the incident, the US Navy said.
The nuclear-powered attack boat is said to be returning to port in Guam, while a statement from the USN said none of the injuries were life-threatening. The sub's nuclear propulsion plant is said to be undamaged.
American naval sources told various news outlets that the submarine might have collided with a shipwreck or a lost shipping container on the seabed.
With the precise location of the incident unknown, it is difficult to say whether it is similar to the time when British submarine HMS Astute ran aground in 2010 after her crew failed to spot the Isle of Skye at night. It does, however, seem similar to the May 1981 collision between nuclear-powered HMS Sceptre and Soviet submarine K-211.
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Naval historian Iain Ballantyne recounted in his book Hunter Killers that the Soviet sub's sonar operators told their captain all was clear behind them: "Twenty-one minutes later, at 1951, the Soviet SSBN juddered as she sustained three short glancing impacts astern and from below, each lasting only a few seconds".
Sceptre had been quietly trailing the Soviet boat and was taken by surprise when she slowed, leading to much of Sceptre's outer casing being "torn away" by the Soviet's propeller – the cause of the three juddering strikes as the British boat bounced off her Russian opponent's stern. Later press reports published after Sceptre's return home said the damaged British boat had hit an iceberg.
With a British carrier task force in the South China Sea, along with two American task forces plus their attending submarines, the incident is a reminder that what goes on out of sight is not always out of mind. Large amounts of global trade pass through the South China Sea and any conflict or blockage of the area would cause similar effects to the tech industry as the Ever Given incident, when a container ship became wedged across the Suez Canal for a week. ®