New figures released by the government reveal that more than one in ten posts are vacant across the Royal Navy's nuclear powered submarine fleet, raising concerns about risks to safety.
According to figures published by Anna Soubry, Minister of State for Defence Personnel, 210 out of a total of 1,980 posts on nine nuclear powered submarines were vacant at beginning of September 2014, suggesting that the Navy is struggling to attract enough sailors, engineers and technicians to crew them.
There was a shortage of 120 out of 1,080 positions on board HMS Vanguard, Victorious, and Vigilant, the three submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles, and 25 of the 280 posts needed to crew the new Astute and Ambush hunter-killer boats were also unfilled.
On board the four ageing Trafalgar class submarines currently in service – Torbay, Trenchant, Talent, and Triumph – 65 out of 620 posts remained vacant.
The Minister stated that none of the existing vacancies is in a post categorised as safety critical and no submarine would go to sea without the minimum required complement of suitably qualified and experienced personnel.
However, concerns about the safety impacts of staff shortages were raised by Fred Dawson, a retired Ministry of Defence (MoD) radiation safety expert, who said that “little if any progress” had been made by MoD management in addressing the issue of personnel shortages.
He said: “This shows that the MoD is unwilling to pay enough to attract and retain staff in these safety critical posts. Cost savings are being put ahead of safety, and in doing so the MoD is putting both its own staff and the public at risk.”
Nuclear submarines rely on a range of skilled staff to remain seaworthy and ensure their reactors, weapon systems, and equipment remain safe.
The Ministry of Defence was heavily criticised in October 2011 when the Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed that submariners on active service had received redundancy notices despite promises that no-one from the overstretched and understaffed Submarine Service would lose their jobs.
A fifth of submarine medical personnel were sacked, even though such personnel play important radiation safety roles on board submarines as well as their crucial medical role.
Navy personnel told the Telegraph that the MoD was “getting rid of people who in a few years will be vital to keep the service going” and was “shooting itself in the foot” by making them redundant.
Since 2008, annual reports published by the MoD's Defence Nuclear Safety and Environment Board, and more recently the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator, have repeatedly highlighted the risks from a lack of suitably qualified and experienced personnel in the MoD's nuclear programmes.