You know what fascinates me? The thought that there are worlds beyond our own where powers beyond what we accept in our scientific, and even religious, viewpoints exist and manipulate the world we think we know. Having experienced quite a few things that could be thought of as evidence of those worlds I’m sensitive to things like that, seeing connections some people might miss or dismiss, and always wondering if they may lead to something wonderful – insane they called it in the olden days. That’s why I’m qualified to tell you the story of something terrifying, the story of a curse. Woo, hope you’re scared, because we’ll be starting with a murder.
You may have read in the papers or heard on the news about a shooting in Southampton recently aboard a submarine. If you haven’t then I’m sure the story will surface (yes, it’s going to be one of those sorts of posts although all respect will hopefully be given to the deceased) at some point. It happened midday on Friday when one Able Seaman Ryan Donovan opened fire with an SA80 assault rifle and attempted to take down the Southampton city council leaders who were on board at the time. Donovan, who has legally changed his name to Reggie Moondogg in pursuit of a gangsta rap career when he leaves the Royal Navy (how he passed the rigourous psychological tests required of submarine staff who face incredible pressure and must be checked on constantly I have no idea), wounded Lieutenant Commander Chris Hodge and killed Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux (pictured below), the weapons engineering officer on board at the time. Lieutenant Molyneux leaves behind his wife Gillian and four children. My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to them in this horrific time.
Royston Smith, the leader of the city council, wrestled the gun away from the murderous seaman and, helped by his chief executive, restrained Donovan until he could be properly taken into custody. At the time of the shooting the submarine HMS Astute was docked in Southampton and being visited by council officials, the Mayor of the city and several groups of schoolchildren who fled for cover when the six shots rang out. Twenty two year old Donovan, who had been denied shore leave for a month while the submarine was going through its exercises, felt the final straw had come when he was denied permission to use the toilet until the visiting dignitaries had used it first.
So tell me, how is someone allowed to get to that state while working on a nuclear submarine, when they have been deemed mentally fit to serve? Could it be yet another part of the curse of the Astute? Ah, you’ve only heard of one incident so far. Settle down children and let me continue my tale…
The Astute is the first of seven planned iterations of a new class of nuclear submarines more advanced than the world had seen before, and launched on the 8th of June 2007. It was designed with capabilities that allow it to purify air and water meaning that the submarine can theoretically stay submerged for as long as it needs to, although a realistic limit is set by the three months worth of food storage it can carry. However this launch had already suffered some major difficulties and setbacks. The launch was 43 months behind schedule and the entire class of submarines were £900 million over budget with just the first one made. The majority of the problems were caused by misinterpreting just how much help 3D computer aided design programs would be, as well as insufficient capabilities within the company that was contracted to build the device (just what you want to hear about a company hired to handle a nuclear reactor). Having been launched in 2007, the Astute went on to sea trials in 2010 and was eventually commissioned as part of the Royal Navy in August of that year, when she was officially named the HMS Astute, despite the anchor and weapons systems failing, the sewage system breaking down (leaving over a hundred submariners without a toilet – that damned toilet again) and an electrical fire breaking out. Before trials had even begun the tower of the submarine caught fire in mysterious circumstances.
It was October that the curse struck again, as the hugely expensive submarine ran aground just off the Isle of Skye (if you’re not from this country then, yes, it is an actual island that floats in the sky) on the 22nd of that month. In an attempt to minimise damage to the submarine, Commander Andy Coles decided to wait for assistance from an emergency tow vehicle rather than freeing the submarine of its own power. This turned out to be a mistake as the Anglian Prince, a vehicle sent to help the grounded submarine, crashed into it and caused more damage to the Astute. Commander Cole found himself facing the prospect of a court martial a week later for that decision and was relieved of his command, while the submarine had to be repaired. While it was subsequently decided that Commander Cole had acted in the best interests of the Navy and the court martial was dropped, I have no doubt that had he continued to captain that vessel he would have been sentenced to death in seconds.
The Astute was off the sea for two months as it was repaired following its grounding and collision and a new captain was assigned, this time veteran Commander Iain Breckenridge who had captained the HMS Tireless (itself a vessel with a history of trouble, twice creating diplomatic problems with Spain due to the timing of its need for repairs in Gibraltar and having to surface through an ice cap after an explosion killed two crew members and injured a third). The Astute launched again on the 11th of December 2010 and soon came limping back to port later that very same day. This time a minor problem with the steam plant had somehow slipped through two months worth of repairs and checks and caused the £1.2 billion vehicle to again be grounded for repairs. In February 2011 the submarine was again grounded for repairs following yet another set of systems failing after being checked repeatedly and found to be in perfect working order. This time the Astute was grounded for six weeks for repairs. It should have stayed there.
Now, as you may have guessed from the top part of this post I’m a little superstitious, having seen enough to convince me that there are forces at work in our lives that we don’t fully understand. As such I’m a little creeped out by the idea of curses, but do you know what scares me much more than that thought? Do you know the thought that scares the living shite out of me? The thought that a nuclear submarine carrying enough weaponry to wipe a few cities off the map and enough nuclear material to cause irreversible damage to the marine ecology of the world might be cursed. I call that common sense.