THE ban on women serving in Royal Navy submarines is set to be lifted after medical experts told the Ministry of Defence wrens face no more danger on boats than their male colleagues.
The News has learnt the MoD has changed its long-held stance on not allowing women to serve beneath the waves due to supposed health risks after researchers at the Gosport-based Institute of Naval Medicine found levels of carbon dioxide on subs are suitable for both males and females.
The equality issue has been under review at the MoD for two years and a decision is expected soon.
‘Expert external legal counsel has concluded that, given the scientific and medical evidence, the Royal Navy is unable to justify a ban on female submariners,’ a defence source said.
The MoD said it is working through the practical implications of allowing women aboard submarines.
Former wren Sue Ball, an employment law specialist at Portsmouth-based Verisona, said: ‘The MoD has relied on the exceptions in the equality law on health and safety grounds that serving in submarines would be damaging to women. But without the medical evidence it is going to be difficult to back that up now. Either they are going to have to remove the ban or face a challenge from someone at some point.’
As much as the push for female submariners is an equality issue, another factor is the fact men can earn thousands of pounds per year in danger money for serving in submarines.
Submariners earn up to £26.66 a day on top of their wages, which can rise by a further £20.60 per day if they are on a nuclear submarine – boosting some men’s wages by £17,250 a year.
Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, who sits on the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, said: ‘I see no reason why women can’t serve on submarines, providing the medical evidence says it does not put those women and their futures at risk.’
The first class of submarines women are likely to serve on will be the new replacement Trident nuclear submarines which are due be built later this decade. Unlike current subs, the design for the replacement of the current Vanguard Class of submarine will include options for mixed manning.
The MoD confirmed pregnant women will still be banned from serving in submarines because doctors said unborn babies could be exposed to harmful gases.
A spokeswoman said a review was ongoing into ‘the legal, operational, health, social, technical and financial implications of employing female submariners’ and the ban will remain until it is fully concluded.
Women have been allowed to serve in warships since 1993.
Initial fears of sex scandals largely failed to materialise and 3,700 females now serve in the navy, which represents one in eight sailors.
The MoD conducted an equality review in 2009 following pressure from a Labour government eager to introduce full equal opportunities for females in the armed forces.
That review refused women the right to serve in submarines on the basis of the cramped living conditions on board and concerns over the dangers posed by fumes inside the submarine to a foetus if a woman is pregnant.
But a new review, which began last year, has found women who are not pregnant would not suffer any more health implications than men.
Women are about to begin service on submarines in the US Navy, which follows the introduction of female submariners in the Australian, Canadian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian navies.
When the Royal Navy follows suit, only mine-clearance diving units and the Royal Marines would be closed to women in the British armed forces.