A robotic submarine deployed to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean has had its first mission cut short.The Bluefin-21 was sent to search the sea floor for wreckage after signals believed to be consistent with "black box" flight recorders were detected.But the drone exceeded its operating limit of 4,500m (15,000ft) and was brought back to the surface.It was due to return later on Tuesday if weather conditions permitted."To account for inconsistencies with the sea floor, the search profile is being adjusted to extend the sonar search for as long as possible," an update from the US Navy - which operates the Bluefin-21 - said. (Source--BBC News)

I am unsure whether the highlighted phrase means "it was because of". My perception is that The robot returned but it was in order to ( it was due to) make a comeback later on Tuesday if weather conditions permitted. ( second conditional )

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    Due to can mean, as you said, because of, but here it's a different use of due; it means expected to happen at a particular time (See oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/due_1 sense 2) "It (refers to the robot) was due to return later on Tuesday..." basically means the same as "It was expected to return on Tuesday..." – user1513 Apr 15 '14 at 9:16
  • @Fantasier IMO that should be an answer. – Helix Quar Apr 15 '14 at 9:22
  • @Fantasier -Thank you so much. Also I would really appretiate if you help me by determining if this is a sentence about past or this is a sevond conditional? It was expected to return later if weather conditions permitted. If it is about past then it means: it was expected to return but the weather did not permit. Why the did not use third conditional here? – user5036 Apr 15 '14 at 9:36
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    It's a past tense conditional reporting a (fairly recent) discourse about a 'open' contingency lying in the speaker's future. The Navy spokesman said "It is due to return later today if weather conditions permit." The journalist later reported this with the verbs backshifted to past tense. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 15 '14 at 12:14

Due to can mean because of or caused by as you said, but in this context, it means expected or arranged to happen at a particular time (See Sense 2 of due on the OALD).

Therefore, "It was due to return later on Tuesday if weather conditions permitted" basically means the same as "It was expected to return ..."

Note that if has a lot of different uses, and the uses don't need to be one of the 3 (or 4, or 5, or more) types of conditionals you have learnt. If is usually used to give a condition, and here the condition is the weather.

As you know, we use the second and the third conditionals to talk about an 'unreal' (hypothetical, untrue, imaginary etc) situation. The second for the present, the third for the past.

Here, since nobody could really tell whether the weather would be good enough for the robot to return at the time the author wrote the news, the author simply used if to give a condition and used the same tense as other sentences, which is the past tense, in this news.

He or she wasn't talking about an imagined scene, so there was no need to change to tense to be more past as in the second or the third conditional.

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In that sentence, "It was due" means that the drone was "supposed to" or "planned to" return later on Tuesday.

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  • Thank you so much for providing the answer. Is this about past? Or is this a second conditional? Why the writer did not use third conditional if it is about past? ... if weather conditions permitted, it was supposed to return. – user5036 Apr 15 '14 at 9:38

The confusion is quite certain to happen. That's because due to is different than due. The latter means the time when something is expected to happen. Here, it's the 'drone's return'.

due (#5) - expected or appointed to be present or arrive

Parsing the sentence like this may help...

...was brought back to the surface. It was due (to return (later)) on Tuesday if weather conditions permitted.

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In this context, if a submarine was "due" to return on Tuesday, it was scheduled to return on Tuesday.

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