IN a crowded field for shocking headlines this past month, readers may not have noticed news of an alarming near-miss between a Royal Navy nuclear submarine and a ferry on the Belfast-Cairnryan crossing.

The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch’s recently published analysis of this incident makes for worrying reading and follows on from a series of similarly dangerous accidents between surface vessels and submarines in the waters round Scotland.

The MAIB report states that on November 6, 2018, an unsupervised trainee on periscope watch-keeping duty incorrectly estimated the distance between a passenger ferry and their submarine. Accident investigators assessed that had it not been for the quick-witted skills of the Stena Ferry look-out, who spotted the sub’s periscope, an accident of serious proportions could have occurred with possible threat to life to not just the 282 people on board, but also the submarine crew.

The MAIB notes that the Royal Navy has co-operated with their investigation so far and the chief inspector of marine accidents has recommended that the Navy conduct a further independent review in order to examine training standards.

However, this incident is not a one-off and raises serious questions about professional conduct in terms of safety-critical decisions. Back in 2015, the UK Ministry of Defence admitted that a Royal Navy submarine snagged a trawler’s fishing nets, dragging it backwards for 10 knots in the Irish Sea and badly damaging it in the process. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

The public now need reassurances that vital action will be taken to drastically reduce the risk of similar collisions occurring in future. At the time of the incident back in November 2018, the public were not informed, nor was there any media coverage. The Royal Navy has also not confirmed which of its submarines was involved; although all 10 are nuclear powered, only four carry Trident 2 D5 nuclear missiles. With such risk to civilian life, should we not be party to these vital details, especially those outlining exactly what the Navy intends to do to ensure “safety is [their] top priority”?

Don’t hold your breath for further details. It took the MoD years to take proper action on radiation contamination at Dalgety Bay in Fife, despite the risk to civilian exposure. This pollution originated from radium-226 deposits in luminous paint used in Second World War aircraft which had been disposed of at nearby Donibristle air base. The MoD finally accepted responsibility in 2014 but the clean-up only started this month.

These situations are all part of far bigger questions for Scotland. Are we really content that nuclear submarines patrol our waters on such a busy and vital ferry route? Are we happy to be the rubbish bin for old subs languishing in the Firth of Forth, radioactive discharges into the Clyde, and the likes of the Beaufort Dyke littered with tonnes of dumped munitions and chemical weapons? Scotland consistently opposes Trident renewal and yet our voice is silenced again and again.

What these near-misses and collisions show is that a disaster of huge proportions could be waiting in the wings. As the MoD steps up its submarine training facility at Faslane, all it takes is one unsupervised trainee. Scotland deserves better than this.