HC Deb 26 January 1955 vol 536 cc125-7
3. Mr. Bottomley

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is now able to make a statement about the inquiry into the cause of the accident to H.M.S. "Talent" in Her Majesty's Dockyard, Chatham.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas

I hope that the House will forgive me for making a rather long answer to this important Question.

The type of caisson which closes the dock in which Her Majesty's Submarine "Talent" was refitting is kept in position during a rising tide by counteracting the increased buoyancy created by the water outside. This is normally done by leaving open the flooding holes which allow water to flow into the tidal chamber of the caisson, thus adding to the sinking ballast already contained in it.

On this occasion, repairs were being done to the deck of the caisson and shipwrights were working inside it. This made it necessary to plug the flooding holes and to put water into the bottom of the caisson.

This operation has been done only once before (at a similar caisson in the yard) within living memory. The caisson in No. 3 dock was of roughly the same dimensions, and water was put in the bottom to the same level as on that occasion. Calculations made since the accident have established that this quantity was seriously insufficient (and that the quantity used on the other occasion was also miscalculated, though on that occasion fortunately no untoward incident occurred).

The result was that, as the tide rose on 15th December, the caisson became buoyant, rose out of the groove at the bottom of the entrance of the dock which normally positions it, and water rushed into the dock, sweeping the "Talent" out. The caisson party had also failed to realise that the tide was running nearly three feet higher than had been predicted, and this greatly increased the buoyancy of the caisson.

I should like to emphasise that there was no structural failure in the caisson: the accident was due entirely to excessive buoyancy created by a miscalculation, the effect of which was intensified by an abnormal tide.

I am naturally taking steps, both to deal with those persons in the dockyard who are responsible for the failures which led to the accident and to avoid a repetition of the accident—either at Chatham or at other yards.

In conclusion, I should like to express again the profound sympathy of the Board of Admiralty with the bereaved and the injured.

Mr. Bottomley

Does the First Lord say that after the initial incident nothing further could have been done to prevent the major disaster? Has he any comment to make about a broken chain link, and is he in a position to tell us whether adequate compensation is being paid and whether facilities have been provided for those who suffered as a result of the disaster?

Mr. Thomas

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, I would point out that it takes a considerable time for extra water ballast to be put in the chamber, and I am afraid that the speed with which the accident happened ruled out any opportunity of trying to stop it once it had begun. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the broken chain had nothing whatever to do with the accident. On the question of compensation, the payment of gratuities and pensions has been authorised, where appropriate, to the dependants of those who lost their lives, and those absent through injury have received sick pay and industrial injury compensation.

Mr. Burden

In future, when such repairs are necessary, will my right hon. Friend ensure that they are undertaken when there is no vessel in the dock? Has my right hon. Friend any statement to make regarding the damage to the submarine, and about whether it will be possible to make her seaworthy again?

Mr. Thomas

I have no statement to make on my hon. Friend's second supplementary question. Perhaps he would put it down on the Paper. I apologise, but I missed his first supplementary question.

Mr. Burden

My first supplementary question was whether my right hon. Friend would give an undertaking that when repairs are necessary to caissons in future those repairs will be carried out when there is no other vessel in the dock.

Mr. Thomas

I will certainly go into that matter.