Wanted – sub spotters on Arran!

By Peter Burt, Nukewatch UK. Featured images shows an Astute class Trident submarine.

Sinister, familiar, menacing, mysterious, commonplace … whatever you may think of them, submarines are visitors in the seas around Arran on a regular basis. The Royal Navy’s submarines pass the island on their way out to the deeper waters of the North Channel and the Atlantic Ocean – and sometimes on missions to waters further afield.

The UK’s submarines are all nuclear powered and some of them are also armed with nuclear weapons of mass destruction – carrying more destructive power than all the explosives used in World War II, including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. The Navy’s submarines now operate entirely from HM Naval Base Clyde, following a programme to relocate submarines based at Devonport in Scotland. As well as British submarines, nuclear powered submarines from the USA and France are also occasional visitors to the Clyde, and sometimes conventionally powered submarines from other NATO nations also visit.

Although the UK’s nuclear arsenal and submarines are based in Scotland, public opinion in Scotland is strongly against nuclear weapons. Scotland’s concerns about nuclear weapons and the country’s commitment to nuclear disarmament are increasingly being reflected around the world. In 2017 the United Nations negotiated the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – a legally binding international agreement to ban nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total global elimination. The Treaty will come into force when 50 nations have ratified it. The UK government, together with the governments of all other nuclear armed states, has said it will refuse to recognise the Treaty.

The UK will only support measures to rid the world of nuclear weapons if its citizens push the government into doing so. The first step towards controlling the UK’s nuclear weapons programme is understanding it. In part, this means monitoring and building a picture of how its nuclear armed submarines operate.

For many years advocates for nuclear disarmament in the Nukewatch network (www.nukewatch.org.uk) have been tracking the nuclear weapon convoys which transport nuclear warheads between the Clyde naval base and the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the south of England where they are made. This ‘citizen verification’ of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme has provided invaluable information to help establish whether the government is keeping its promises on nuclear weapons and sticking to its arms control obligations by limiting the size of its arsenal.

With help from residents around the west coast of Scotland, associates of the Nukewatch network are now setting up a similar citizen network for monitoring submarine movements in and out of the Clyde. Information will be used to help build up a pattern of movements. Departures from the normal pattern may help provide important information – for example, about dangerous accidents such as the underwater collision between nuclear armed French and British submarines which took place in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Arran residents are invited to contribute to this project by passing on information about any submarines they sight off the coast of the island.

Please email information about any sightings to clyde.submarine.spotters@gmail.com or text 07716 099418.

Ideally we would like to know:
• the date and time of the sighting, the rough location and direction (ie heading out to sea or back in to the base),
• whether there were any other vessels with the submarine (eg tugs),
• if possible the type of submarine (Vanguard class, Astute class, or Trafalgar class – this webpage gives pictures and details of the different types.

But any information will be helpful, even if it is incomplete!

We don’t expect to be able to put together a comprehensive record of submarine movements, but your information will help us to better understand how the UK Ministry of Defence is using its submarines, and hopefully be a step towards pushing the government to live up to its disarmament obligations.

Thank you for your help and we look forward to hearing from you!

Nukewatch monitor and track the movement of British WMD’s from Aldermaston in Berkshire to Coulport on the West coast of Scotland. Nukewatch is a network of individuals who campaign against nuclear warhead convoys, mainly because they are part of a system of Weapons of Mass Destruction, but also because we believe that communities potentially affected by the convoys should be aware of their existence and the risks they pose.