Update: This article was updated with the statement from French Minister of Armed Forces (at the bottom)
According to a French Ministry of the Armed Forces statement issued today, the fire was finally put out this morning at 12.50 am:
On June 13, 2020, the fire aboard the SSN “Perle” was extinguished at 12:50 am, after more than 14 hours of a fight that mobilized a hundred firefighters and more than 150 people in support.
For the record, the fire broke out on June 12, at 10:35 am on the forward zone of the SSN that was in dry dock, undergoing a major overhaul at Toulon naval base in Southern France (where all French Navy Rubis-class SSNs are home ported).
At 9:36 p.m on June 12, authorities announced that the fire was under control following the flooding of the aft compartments of the submarine with foam, adding that the “reactor rooms remains untouched.”
The French authorities are reported today that there were no injuries. The incident saw the involvement of the naval base firefighters, reinforced by local firefighters as well as military firefighters from Marseilles (France’s second largest city, located about an hour drive from Toulon). The crew of the Perle submarine as well well as sailors from the French submarine school (located on site) also took part in the firefighting.
There was no nuclear fuel on board , this having been removed as part of the technical shutdown. There were no weapons (missiles, torpedoes, ammunition) or batteries on board either.
The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, is going to Toulon naval base today to get briefed on the incident and assess the damages to the submarine.
These damages may be significant given the duration of the blaze. Should Perle not be able to return to active duty, the consequences may be serious for the French Navy as it would leave a large capability gap affecting the French submarine force as well as the security of the French nuclear deterrence. This would leave the French Navy with only 4 operational SSN. The Rubis-class SSN Saphir (second boat of the class) was decommissioned in July 2019. The next class of SSN, the first ship-in-class Suffren , which started sea trials recently, won’t be fully operational until 2021.
About French Navy Rubis-class SSN
According to Covert Shores’ World Submarines Recognition Guide, The first of the six Rubis-class submarines was commissioned in 1983 and the final one in 1993. They are the smallest nuclear-powered submarines in the world with a length of just 73.6 meters and a submerged displacement of 2,600 tons.
From the beginning, the boats were disapointingly noisy and failed to achieve some of the performance objectives (such as top speed). As a consequence, the French Navy and industry embarked on the Amethyste upgrade program in 1989. AMETHYSTE stand for Amélioration tactique, hydrodynamique, silence, transmission, écoute (Silent Acoustic Transmission Tactical Hydrodynamic Improvement). It brought a number of upgrades including a major change to the hull form and bow. By 1995, all six boats of the class had been upgraded.
Rubis-class submarine specifications
- Displacement: 2,400 tons surfaced; 2,600 tons submerged
- Length: 73.6 meters (241 feet)
- Beam: 7 meters (25 feet)
- Speed: 18 knots surfaced; 25+ knots submerged
- Depth: 300 meters (984 feet) operational
- Propulsion: K48 pressurized water reactor (64,000 hp); 2x turbo-alternators; 1x 9400 hp electric motor, one shaft
- Complement: 70 sailors
- Weapon systems: 4x 533mm torpedo tubes for 14x F17 torpedo or 14x Exocet SM39 anti-ship missiles
- Sensor systems: DMUX-20 active/passive sonar; DSUV-62C towed array
UPDATE – Statement by Minister Parly
During her visit this morning to Toulon naval base, Florence Parly made the following statement following her inspection of the Perle:
“Now that the flames have died down, it is time to assess the damage and analyze the consequences. What is certain is that almost all of the ship’s equipment was no longer on board: It is the equipment for the combat system, sonar, torpedo tubes, batteries, all of this is intact. For the rest, I asked the best experts from the Marine Nationale and Naval Group to send me as soon as possible their precise analysis of the extent of the damage. Several investigations have already been initiated, a judicial inquiry and technical investigations carried out by the Marine Nationale and by the contractors. I have also decided to refer the matter to the Armed Forces Inspectorate“
Answering media questions, Minister Parly added that:
- should the Perle be fixable, everything will be done to repair it
- the cause for such a strong (and rapid) fire is still unknown
- what remained aboard the submarine was wiring and that is most likely what fueled the fire