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21st July 2016, 18:42

Damaged HMS Ambush "welcome" as ever, says Chief Minister, despite concerns

The damaged Nuclear submarine, HMS Ambush, is as welcome today on the Rock as ever, says the Chief Minister. Fabian Picardo says he has received direct assurances from the newly appointed Armed Forces Minister, Mike Penning, that the damaged submarine poses no safety risk to the population of Gibraltar. 

It couldn’t have been scripted better; Commodore Mike Waliker, formerly in Command of HMS Tireless whilst it was repaired in Gibraltar amidst a tsunami of controversy, takes over as the new Commander British Forces Gibraltar. Within a week, a damaged nuclear submarine comes into Gibraltar for repairs after it accidentally hits a tanker.

However, unlike HMS Tireless, Commodore Waliker has given direct assurances to the Acting Chief Minister, Joseph Garcia, that the damage is external, and no repairs will be carried out on the nuclear reactor. According to a statement from Number Six, CBF was in contact with Dr Garcia throughout the day, and later spoke to the Chief Minister himself.

Fabian Picardo says the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mike Penning, also called him to offer assurances that the vessel’s reactor is undamaged, and there was therefore no danger to Gibraltar from its presence at the South Mole. Mr Picardo says he’s satisfied at the explanation, and therefore HMS Ambush is as welcome today as its ever been. He says Gibraltar is an important and strategic military base for the UK, and the regular visit of nuclear submarines is part of that strategic value.

But the Environmental Safety Group is not as reassured. The ESG campaigned vigorously during the repairs to HMS Tireless fifteen years ago, and says its concerned at this latest incident which saw Ambush hit a commercial vessel. It calls for more information on how this incident could have happened, and any information related to public safety issues should be made public.

Meanwhile, former Unite MOD Convenor Juan Pecino says the latest incident demonstrates why using Gibraltar as a nuclear submarine base just isn’t safe. Mr Pecino says he has always campaigned for a Gibraltar free from nuclear submarines, and believes safety standards have gone down because of budgetary cuts. He says there is a risk to Gibraltar’s population as well as that of the Campo de Gibraltar when nuclear submarines berth on the Rock. Mr Pecino was actively against the repairs to HMS Tireless on the Rock, and believes the manning levels at the MoD Naval Base do not reflect those which would make the base safe for a nuclear submarine visits. Mr Pecino says this is his personal opinion and does not reflect that of the Unite Gibraltar branch, although he says Unite in the UK is against Nuclear power in general. He calls for the Gibraltar Government to assert itself and make its position known on the repairs to Nuclear submarines in Gibraltar.

GBC has requested an interview from Commander British Forces, but so far this has not been agreed to.