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Royal Navy personnel have joined 2,000 sailors from 13 nations for the world's largest submarine rescue exercise, off the south-eastern tip of Spain.
The ten days of NATO Exercise Bold Monarch witnessed an international effort to bring trapped submariners from four boats to the surface.
The exercise is run every three years to test the ability of allied teams - including the UK-based NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) - to react to the two most terrifying words in a submariner’s vocabulary: submiss and subsunk.
This year rescue efforts focused on the western Mediterranean, just off Cartagena, with four diesel-powered subs from Portugal, host nation Spain, Turkey and, for the first time, Russia, ‘bottoming’ on the sea bed and awaiting rescue.
Coming to their aid were mini-submarines, diving bells, divers, parachutists and medical specialists.
Submarine rescue vehicles from Italy, the USA, Russia and Sweden all deployed to the waters off Cartagena, plus the Faslane-based Anglo-French-Norwegian NSRS.
They were joined by specialist divers and hyperbaric medical teams from France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Britain, charged with coping with challenging deep sea illnesses such as decompression.
Finally, parachutists from Italy, Russia and the Royal Navy’s Submarine Parachute Assistance Group also headed to Spain to leap out of aircraft and be the first on the scene to assist people who came up to the surface directly from their stricken boats:
“By their nature submarine operations are secret - with one exception: search and rescue. That brings together submarine communities from across the world, as this exercise shows,” said Rear Admiral Ian Corder RN, Commander NATO Submarine Forces North.
We are extremely proud to show what we do.
The participation of the Russian Kilo Class boat ‘Alrosa’ particularly excited organisers and saw some historic link-ups, including the NATO and US rescue vehicles docking with the submarine 114 metres below the surface of the Mediterranean.
We’ve proved that we can ‘mate’ with four different boats from four different nations and we’ve shown that we can evacuate 70 people from a submarine within 24 hours - that covers almost all the non-nuclear submarines in the world,” said Lieutenant Commander Stewart Little, the Royal Navy’s rescue element commander overseeing the NATO submersible’s missions.
Submarines are operated by more than 40 navies worldwide and, in addition to the countries participating in the exercise, numerous nations have sent observers to watch proceedings.
Planning is already underway for the next Bold Monarch, scheduled for Polish waters in 2014.