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Trawler skipper's brush with sub: 'When we broke free I was shaking so much I couldn't operate the radio'

By Linda Stewart

Published 17/04/2015

Paul Murphy on his trawler yesterday
Paul Murphy on his trawler yesterday
Paul Murphy with his wife and daughter Ella (2)
The Irish Sea is used as a training ground for submarines

The skipper of the County Down trawler that was nearly sunk by a suspected submarine said he couldn't wait to go home to kiss his wife and daughter - and his wish has come true.

Paul Murphy, skipper of prawn trawler Karen, said his first thought after the vessel came close to capsizing was of his family, including a second baby due in a couple of weeks.

"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.

"But I got a hug and a kiss," he laughed.

On Wednesday afternoon, the trawler juddered to a halt 15 miles out from Ardglass when its nets became snagged and then was towed backwards at an increasing speed as the crew battled to detach the nets.

It's thought the culprit may have been a Russian submarine prowling the Irish Sea - or one of the Allied submarines taking part in an international Nato exercise called Joint Warrior.

Peter Roberts, senior research fellow at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said: "It's a distinct possibility that there could be Russian submarines in the Irish Sea waiting to see the units that come out of Glasgow to classify and fingerprint the sounds they make underwater.

"But it would be a new area for Russian submarines to operate in - they're normally further off the Hebrides.

"It does sound distinctly like a submarine was caught in the nets. It doesn't happen much now because the MoD puts out so many warnings when Allied or British submarines are in the area and they are warned to move carefully round known fishing areas.

"It's unlikely to be British - it's more likely to be an Allied or foreign power submarine that doesn't know the practices, or a foreign nation not taking part in the exercises, which might indicate the Russians."

But the skipper believes it is more likely to be an Allied submarine taking part in the Joint Warrior exercise, which is running from April 11 to 24 and features 55 warships, 70 aircraft and 13,000 personnel from 13 countries.

Mr Murphy said he was looking for answers, adding: "We waited for around 30 minutes and there was no sign of it. Protocol for any Nato submarine is that it's supposed to surface to check and see if you are alive and let you know that they were in a collision with us.

"I have a gut feeling that this is one of ours - we've been watching them for weeks up and down the Irish Sea."

Mr Murphy said repair work had already started and it's estimated that it will cost more than £20,000 to fix the damage.

"We had shot our last tow, turned round and were towing for home - and about an hour after that, the boat violently stopped. It nearly knocked us off our feet," he said.

"When it started going backwards, I knew it had to be a submarine. It was picking up speed and was going backwards at 10 knots - it was scary.

"I was lucky the crew was on deck and we were able to react quickly. We got to the winch and were able to release the trawl warps, but one of the wires got stuck. It pulled to one side and that was the danger - it nearly capsized the boat.

"Once we broke free, I was shaking like a leaf. Protocol is to contact the Coastguard, but I had to sit for five or six minutes because I couldn't hold the radio."

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