Northern Ireland news

Photographer tells of shock as nuclear sub appears off Rathlin Island

Photographer Stephen Dunbar was surprised by a US Navy submarine

A PHOTOGRAPHER has spoken of his surprise after spotting a US submarine in the waters off Rathlin Island.

Belfast-based wildlife and landscape photographer Stephen Dunbar was preparing to catch yesterday morning's sunrise over the North Channel when a US Navy nuclear submarine appeared in his camera's viewfinder.

"Not exactly what I had in mind when I went out to photograph sunrise on Rathlin this morning," he tweeted, before posting a second picture of the vessel – a Virginia class submarine – with the Mull of Kintyre in the background.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, a former Royal Navy submarine commander, said the sight wouldn't be that rare, given the area's proximity to HM Naval Base Clyde – AKA Faslane.

"All the Nato nations would use Faslane, so it's not uncommon for naval submarines to be in this stretch of water," he told The Irish News.

"If they're not training the subs are much more likely to come in on the roof [sea surface], whereas if they're on an exercise they'll dive."

The South Antrim MLA said the vessel was a "non-ballistic submarine" and unlikely to be carrying nuclear warheads.

The US Navy submarine north of Rathlin Island

"A US attack sub such as this, is more likely to carrying Cruise or Tomahawk missiles," he said.

The US Navy's Virginia class sub – also known as the SSN-774 class - is a nuclear-powered vessel designed for a broad range of open-ocean and littoral missions, including anti-submarine warfare and intelligence gathering operations.

Last year, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch concluded that passengers were put in "immediate danger" when a nuclear-powered submarine and the Belfast to Cairnryan ferry nearly collided.

The said the vessels came within 50-100m of one another in the North Channel in November 2018.

The Royal Navy submarine, based in Faslane, had been patrolling an area south of the ferry route.

The US Navy submarine north of Rathlin Island

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