Canada ‘daft’ to buy problem-plagued subs from U.K.: British MP

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The Brits are admitting Canada bought yellow submarines — lemons, that is. An MP in Britain's coalition government said Canada got a bad deal in 1998 when it bought four second-hand diesel-electric subs mothballed by the Royal Navy.

"Why were the Canadians daft enough to buy them?" Mike Hancock, whose Liberal Democrat party is the junior partner in the coalition with the Conservatives, told CBC News.

Hancock has tabled questions about the deal in the British House of Commons, asking why they sold the subs "knowing there were intrinsic problems" in them.

"It's either incompetence on behalf of the Canadians, or sheer, smooth-talking salesmen from the MOD [Ministry of Defence] here in Britain," he added.

Canada thought it was getting a bargain when it bought the subs, which had been decommissioned in 1993, for $750 million. It seemed a cost-effective way to replace the navy's obsolete Oberon-class subs.

In 13 years they've spent less than three years at sea, plagued by accidents, leaks, rust and fires, including one that killed a sailor during HMCS Chicoutimi's maiden voyage in 2004. HMCS Corner Brook ran aground last year and will need two years of repair before going back into service, while HMCS Windsor went into dry dock in 2007 for a two-year refit that's still not finished. HMCS Victoria is at sea, going through a workups in advance of a full return to service later this year, according to CBC News.

CBC noted none of the subs can fire a Canadian torpedo but the navy announced Friday the Victoria successfully fired torpedos at trials off Vancouver Island this week.

"As the submarine fleet achieves steady-state it will be ready to act decisively at sea in defence of Canada, when and where needed," said Capt. Luc Cassivi, director Canadian Submarine Force, said in a news release.

"These trials represent a major milestone for the Victoria-class submarine program as Victoria is the first submarine in the fleet to fire a MK48 Heavyweight exercise Torpedo."

Repairing and maintaining the subs has cost billions of dollars.

"I'm appalled we've done a dumb deal with an ally like this," Hancock told CBC News. "If this was the Americans, we'd say good luck and serves you right. But as it's Canada, I think there are a lot of questions to be answered."

Hancock, who questioned the deal back in 1998, said Canada should consider asking for its money back.

"I think you should be making a case for it."

The navy said Friday the sub fleet will achieve "steady state," next year, meaning three of the four vessels will be continuously available for operations.