How A Single Bolt Sidelined A Submarine For Three Months

If you heard an ominous sound coming from your car's engine, what would you do? Most people probably wouldn't continue to gun the engine, trying different gears until the problem went away. But if you were the crew of the guided missile-equipped USS Georgia and you heard some clunking coming from the submarine's engine, that's exactly what you would do.

A newly uncovered Navy report reveals that when a single loose bolt rolled into the USS Georgia's propulsion shaft, its crew kept the engine running for two days while trying to figure out why it wasn't working. Of course, brass wasn't happy:

"This was an avoidable mishap," [Vice Admiral] Richardson wrote in his July 19 letter closing the investigation into the first known instance of main reduction gear damage on a submarine in three years. "Had watch-standing principles of integrity, formality, procedural compliance, level of knowledge, questioning attitude and forceful backup been responsibly adhered to and executed, this incident would not have occurred and the ship would have deployed on time."

The damage to the nuclear submarine from the bolt sidelined the vessel for three months and the repairs cost over $US2.2 million. Not only did the misguided attempt to diagnose the problem delay repair efforts, but it exacerbated the damage. Making things worse, the repairs happened during a time when NATO needed the submarine to help out in Libya.

Of course, the US Navy has detailed maintenance procedures to be sure things like loose hardware don't wreck havoc with expensive ships. But detailed procedures don't help if they're not followed. After repairs, the USS Georgia is fine, and engineers are reviewing their lessons learnt. But sweeping changes aren't expected to result from this incident, because after all, $US2 million is peanuts to the US Navy. [Navy Times via Business Insider]

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