Russian sub linked to trawler scare
A Russian submarine close to the coast of Britain may have dragged a trawler violently backwards after snagging in its nets, a fishermen's organisation said.
The Karen was towed at 10 knots during yesterday's incident 18 miles from Ardglass on the south-east shore of Northern Ireland. The vessel was badly damaged but the crew escaped unharmed.
Ardglass is one of Northern Ireland's main fishing ports and local trawlermen are usually more concerned about fishing quotas than Cold War-style intrigue.
Nato exercises were held this week in northern Scotland and Ardglass fishing representative Dick James said the alliance's drills may have attracted Russian interest. This week RAF Typhoons were launched to intercept two Russian aircraft near UK air space, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
Mr James said: "Our defence forces are not up to much if a rogue submarine of unidentified nationality is tearing around the Irish Sea."
Last month a trawler captain claimed his boat was nearly dragged down by a Russian submarine while fishing off the Scottish coast. Recently Russian warships reportedly used the English Channel en route to military exercises in the North Atlantic.
The coastguard said the Karen reported a collision at a point known as the Calf of Man not far from the Isle of Man.
The skipper said the boat had been snagged and dragged backwards at speed.
Mr James added: "You don't need to go long at that until you go under."
The four 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 seamen 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.
Mr James said: "It is a bloody mess."
He said Royal Navy protocols mean an incident like this would not happen involving a British submarine.
"It is possible that it was a Russian submarine.
"You cannot always prevent it but if an incident like this did happen the (Royal Navy) protocols said that the submarine would immediately surface to check on the health and welfare of the people involved and this one did not.
"Paul Murphy, the skipper, said that he sat for five to 10 minutes catching his breath to see if the submarine would surface.
"It was a submarine, it had to be, it could not have been anything else."
The incident came as Britain hosted a Nato exercise in northern Scotland involving more than 50 warships.
Separately, the MoD has said RAF Typhoons, from RAF Lossiemouth, were deployed "after Russian aircraft were identified flying close to UK air space". It said it could not comment on Royal Navy submarine movements or the fishing vessel incident.
Tensions over the Ukraine conflict have soured relations between the West and Russia, which is suffering from US and EU sanctions imposed because the Kremlin is backing separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Mr James, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation, said : "There has been Russian activity. There have been Allied exercises going on, the Russians have been taking an interest in it.
"The question mark now is what kind of a submarine was it?
"If it was Allied it should have been following an agreed protocol where this should not have happened."
Sinn Fein Northern Ireland Assembly member Chris Hazzard said the community was angry.
"The fact that this submarine didn't even surface to make sure the fishermen were safe has caused considerable resentment in the area. It is totally unacceptable that a submarine would show such contempt for maritime workers.
"The skipper and his crew on the Karen, and indeed all of the local fleet, deserve to know the truth about what happened. Whether this is a British vessel attached to the hugely controversial Trident system or a Nato submarine in training, our local fishermen deserve justice."