Crew of fishing boat cheat death as £10,000 worth of gear is torn away
The skipper and crew of a Co Down fishing boat said they came within seconds from death when their nets were snagged by what they suspect was a prowling submarine.
Captain of the Karen Paul Murphy (46) said he and his crew of three were prawn fishing out of Ardglass in deep water halfway between Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man when suddenly the vessel stopped dead in the water - and began to be dragged backwards.
Mr Murphy said: "It was just a normal day, but all of a sudden the boat stopped dead in the water - and then we began to go astern.
"We were being dragged backwards by something huge under the surface. We were doing 10 knots astern."
Clearly still shaken by his experience, Mr Murphy said: "I knew straight away that it was a submarine. No doubt about it. Only a submarine could do that.
"I was able to alert the crew and they quickly released the brakes on the winch that was holding our nets. It was the only way we could escape. The boat was almost capsized."
He said it was the most frightening experience of his 25-year career at sea.
"I've been on a sinking boat: you can cope with that - we're trained to use life rafts - but we were dragged for well over a minute before everything broke and we got away.
"It was the longest minute of my life."
The damage to the Karen is considerable. A hole was ripped into the deck of the 80-ton Danish-built boat, and the galluses - the steel frames which hold the hawsers fastened to the nets - were destroyed.
He estimated that at least £10,000 worth of damage had been caused.
"But thank God we were on this boat," he said.
"It's one of the strongest in the fleet."
Mr Murphy said it is the first time an Ardglass boat has been involved in an incident with a submarine.
The Karen's skipper said Nato submarines are supposed to surface immediately if they are in contact with trawlers - but the sub that almost dragged his boat and his crew into the deep did not.
"It could have been a Russian," he said.
There has been increased Russian naval and airforce activity around British Isles recently.
Mr Murphy said there are now serious questions to be asked.
"I nearly lost my life - and so did my crew. I want to know who it was. We want answers. I know for a fact that if I don't abide by the rules when I am at sea, I am liable - so there is a negligent submarine skipper running around in the Irish Sea," he said.
He said there was now concern over whether it was safe for the fishing fleet to put out to sea. Mr Murphy said all he wanted to do was go home and kiss his wife Tara, hug his daughter - and have a beer.
The Ministry of Defence said it does not comment on submarine movements.