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UK nuclear submarine runs aground off Scotland

LONDON (Reuters) - A new British nuclear-powered submarine ran aground off the coast of northwest Scotland on Friday during an exchange of crew members.

Britain's Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine HMS Astute (top) sails into the River Clyde towards HM Naval Base Clyde in Faslane near Glasgow, Scotland, in a November 20, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/David Moir/files

Military officials played down the significance of the embarrassing accident involving the navy’s biggest and newest submarine.

“This is not a nuclear incident,” a Ministry of Defense spokesman said. “There are no injuries to personnel and the submarine is watertight.”

A navy spokesman described the accident as a “relatively minor incident.”

The MoD identified the boat as an Astute-class submarine, adding that it was not armed with nuclear warheads.

The submarine was snagged on rocks off the Isle of Skye during a routine boat transfer, the navy spokesman said.

“At some point she touched the rudder on the bottom and they weren’t able to get her off immediately,” a spokesman said.

He said tug boats were in place and would try to pull the sub free later on Friday as the tide rose.

“There are no nuclear issues, no environmental impact, no injuries to people -- potential damage to the rudder, that’s about it,” the spokesman said.

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The HMS Astute is the first of a new class of nuclear-powered submarines. It was commissioned into the navy in August and was undergoing sea trials before becoming operational.

The design, development and manufacture of the first three Astute submarines cost 3.9 billion pounds ($6.1 billion).

According to the Royal Navy’s website it is the largest and most advanced sub the navy operates and will progressively replace the “Swiftsure” and “Trafalgar” classes.

The Maritime and Coastguard said it was alerted to the incident at about 0720 GMT and had sent an emergency tug boat to assist.

Witness Ross McKerlich told BBC News: “She is now high and dry and we can see just the tips of her propeller.

“It looks as if it has developed a slight list. There was a helicopter hovering over the top and there are still just the two naval vessels from the local base.

“Earlier in the day, they did have ropes and they were trying to tow (the submarine).”

It’s not the first time a British nuclear submarine has run aground off northwest Scotland.

In 2002 HMS Trafalgar got into trouble off the Isle of Skye during a military exercise and two crew were slightly injured. The surrounding coastline is used as a training ground by the navy.

As part of a major defense review unveiled on Tuesday, the government confirmed it would go ahead with an order for seven new Astute-class submarines, built by BAE Systems.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas, Jonathan Saul and Peter Griffiths; editing by Philippa Fletcher