Navy source explains what happens when someone dies on a submarine like in Vigil

Many of us are hooked onto BBC's Vigil right now. Made by the producers of Line of Duty, the show is BBC’s most-watched drama of 2021.

But fans often wonder how much of any TV show is real, and what elements are exaggerated for our viewing pleasure?

Some things obviously aren't true. For example, Vigil is not a real submarine. It is part of a fictional Vanguard-class submarine of the Royal Navy, which is a class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines currently in service with the Royal Navy.

The show itself features four submarines: Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance.

On the programme, DCI Amy Silva is tasked to investigate the murder of Craig Burke while onboard the submarine.

Even though she requested the submarine be sent back to port, she was told to continue her investigation at sea as the nuclear deterrent must remain unbroken.

One question that some people have is: in episode one, the body of Craig Burke is stored in the torpedo tube in the submarine, does that actually happen?

Or how about the fact that they just stayed on board despite a death, is that realistic, or just exaggerated for our viewing?

We spoke to a source from The Royal Navy to find out what actually happens when someone dies on a submarine, and whether Vigil has it spot on or not.

He said: “If we do suffer a fatality, and the submarine was off operation we would come home, but if we were on patrol at the time and there was a death, it would become a crime scene and we’d remain at sea."

It looks like the storing of the body in the torpedo tube isn’t entirely accurate though.

The source explained: "Because it’s a working environment everything gets positioned and the body will be lifted and put in the fridge, not in the torpedo tube like on Vigil.

"Photographs are also taken as it's classed as a crime scene.”

Once the body is put into the fridge, the crew members have to prioritise food products that have the longest endurance, because after all, you can’t have a body in a fridge full of food.

He continued: “We need to look after the state of the body which will need to be looked at by a coroner, so the fridges are emptied out and the longest endurance products and things like milk and potatoes will be put into domestic fridges in the submarine.

“There’s probably about eight normal sized fridges like you have in your home so it’s all about prioritising food in this case.”

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A medical officer will guide the crew members on what temperature to have the fridge at, because they cannot freeze the body.

“The fridge is the size of a garden shed for reference, and the freezer is about the size of a single garage, this is of course because we prepare for a reasonable period of time at sea.”

If the submarine is in operation, they can be on board for a couple of days to several weeks, it really does depend on the situation.

In a nutshell, when someone dies on board, it can become a crime scene where nothing can be touched if they are in operation and then it’s time to prioritise food.

But don’t worry, they don’t store the corpse with the bread and milk.

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