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Ardglass trawler: Royal Navy submarine dragged fishing boat through the Irish Sea, causing '£10,000 of damage', MoD admits

'I got quite emotional over it ... in seconds we could have been gone'

By Gary Fennelly

Published 07/09/2015

MoD has admitted a British submarine did drag Ardglass-based trawler MV Karen
MoD has admitted a British submarine did drag Ardglass-based trawler MV Karen
Paul Murphy with his wife and daughter Ella (2)

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted that a Royal Navy submarine was responsible for damaging an Ardglass-based prawn trawler after towing it at speed through the Irish Sea.

The 60-foot wooden hulled trawler, named the MV Karen, was about 18 miles off the coast when its nets were snagged by the British sub in April.

Skipper Paul Murphy said that they had to release their fishing and lifting gear to free themselves as they hurtled backwards at a speed of ten knots.

The incident happened at a point known as the Calf of Man not far from the Isle of Man.  The crew of the vessel were not injured during the incident but it was estimated that repair costs would be upwards of £10,000.

The MoD said at the time that it did not comment on submarine activity but has now said 'new information' has emerged.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, the Armed Forces 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."

In April, Mr Murphy told Down News: “Without warning, were 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.”

MV Karen's skipper Paul Murphy
MV Karen's skipper Paul Murphy

He later told the Belfast Telegraph: "I got quite emotional over it. You don't know how close you are in circumstances like that - in seconds we could have been gone. It hasn't sunk in yet."

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'When we broke free I was shaking so much I couldn't operate the radio'

Crew of fishing boat cheat death as £10,000 worth of gear is torn away  

It is not the first time reports of submarines coming into contact with trawlers in the area have been recorded. In the documentary below fishermen from Portavogie and Clogherhead told of their encounters with subs in the Irish sea.

Commenting on the MoD revealation, 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.

Ardglass fishing trawler skipper Paul Murphy was 20 miles off the coast when he discovered that his nets had been snagged and was being dragged under. He lost the fishing gear and lifting gear in order to free the vessel
Ardglass fishing trawler skipper Paul Murphy was 20 miles off the coast when he discovered that his nets had been snagged and was being dragged under. He lost the fishing gear and lifting gear in order to free the vessel

"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 MLA Chris Hazzard said: "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."

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