News

British submarine responsible for damaging Irish fishing trawler

NewsBy Morgan Flanagan Creagh
Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine spotted of Donegal (Pic: John Cunningham)
Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine spotted of Donegal (Pic: John Cunningham)

A British submarine damaged a fishing trawler that was towed quickly through the Irish Sea, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

The Karen was carried at 10 knots after the sub snagged in its fishing nets 18 miles from Ardglass on the south-east shore of Northern Ireland in April. The trawler was badly damaged but the crew escaped unharmed.

Ardglass is one of Northern Ireland's main fishing ports.

READ: Fisherman stumbles across military submarine off Donegal coast HERE

The trawler, Karen, was about 18 miles off the coast when its nets were snagged shortly after 4pm on Wednesday.

Skipper Paul Murphy told Down News: “Without warning, we were stopped and pulled backwards very violently at around ten knots which is the top speed of the vessel. I really thought that was it.  It was fortunate that one of the steel ropes holding the net snapped or we would have been pulled under very quickly.

"The incident only lasted about just over five seconds but it was very scary. The submarine did not come up to the surface after we tangled with it. We have now lost thousands of pounds of fishing gear because of this. It really should not have happened.”

Mr Murphy said the incident happened at a point known as the Calf of Man not far from the Isle of Man.

MoD minister Penny Mordaunt said: "The Royal Navy has now confirmed that a UK submarine was, in fact, responsible for snagging the Karen's nets. The incident, the delay in identifying and addressing the events on that day, and their consequences are deeply regretted.

"It is standing Ministry of Defence (MoD) policy not to comment in detail on submarine operations but, exceptionally, I can say that this incident occurred because the submarine did not correctly identify the Karen as a fishing vessel with nets in the water, and thus did not give her the berth she would otherwise have had.

"Moreover, had the submarine been aware of the incident at the time, which it was not, then the protocols in place under the code of practice for submarine operations in the vicinity of fishing vessels would have required the submarine to surface and remain on scene while the matter was investigated."

Trawler Karen (Pic: Down News)

The four fishing crew members scrambled to release wires connecting the net to the out-of-control trawler, which had been moving slowly forward but was suddenly sent careering backwards through the water.

As the ship steadied, the shaken trawlermen stopped to catch their breath but there was no sign of the cause.

The vessel made its way back to Ardglass. Part of the deck had to be lifted because it was so badly damaged, and another section was ripped off.

Shortly afterwards Ms Mordaunt said she was confident no British submarine was involved.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: "Fishermen must be confident that their vessels will not be damaged by submarine activity and where incidents do take place, the Government will own up to it immediately.

"It's important now that the owner and crew of the Karen are compensated for the damage done to their vessel and the time they have lost at sea as a result. I will continue to pursue this matter until we have reached a satisfactory resolution."

Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly member Chris Hazzard said fishermen deserved to be able to work in an environment where they did not have to worry about submarines sinking their boats as fishing was already a dangerous occupation.

"The British Government and MoD must now explain their actions, if any disciplinary measures will be taken arising out of this incident and how it will avoid similar incidents in the future."

The UK’s Ministry of Defence was contacted at the time but said they do not comment on submarine activity for security reasons.

However scores of ships and aircraft from 13 countries were, at the time, taking part in war games off the coast of Scotland, in an unprecedented show of military strength.

The NATO exercises involved at least 55 warships, 70 aircraft and 13,000 sailors and included submarine hunts, amphibious landings and ship against ship attacks.