Damning Report For Navy Into Karen Sub Accident

The Irish Sea fishing community finally received some welcome transparency over an incident in 2015 when a Royal Navy submarines snagged Ardglass prawn trawler, the Karen, during a NATO exercise involving vessels from a number of nations across Europe.

The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau has now reported (13 October 2016) that on 15 April 2015, a dived Royal Navy submarine did in fact snag the fishing gear of the UK registered trawler Karen, east of Ardglass.

The Karen limps back to port in Ardglass a year ago lucky to be afloat after netting a submarine.
The Karen limps back to port in Ardglass a year ago lucky to be afloat after netting a submarine. (Photo by Jim Massson / Down News.)

The Karen was towed backwards and had partially submerged before being released from the submarine when the trawl warps gave way. The submarine did not surface to render immediate assistance as evidence of the collision on board was either ignored or misinterpreted.

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents said: “Eighteen months ago, the actions of the command team of a Royal Navy submarine placed the lives of the crew of the trawler Karen in danger. Regrettably, the reluctance of the Royal Navy to fully engage in the subsequent investigation resulted in this report taking significantly longer to deliver than would normally be the case.

“The accident happened because of insufficient passage planning by the submarine’s command team and their failure to follow guidance on fishing vessel avoidance. Had its trawl warps not parted, it is almost inevitable that Karen would have capsized and sunk. The collision also presented a very significant risk to the submarine.

“The Royal Navy’s Code of Practice for Fishing Vessel Avoidance was created after the loss of the trawler Antares and its crew in 1990. However, it is apparent that lessons learnt after the Antares accident have been lost. As a result, it is now important that the Royal Navy reviews its procedures and training for the safe conduct of dived submarine operations in the same vicinity as vessels engaged in fishing. By its actions, the Royal Navy also needs to rebuild trust with the fishing industry.”

Safety Issues

Karen skipper Paul Murphy examines the steel ropes that snapped when the submarine towed his vessel backwards at 10 knots in April 2015.
Karen skipper Paul Murphy examines the steel ropes that snapped when the submarine towed his vessel backwards at 10 knots in April 2015.

The MAIB Report also adds that collision avoidance between a dived submarine and any other vessel is the responsibility of the submarine’s command team. In this case, the submarine’s command team did not take avoiding action to keep clear of Karen because it had been misidentified as a merchant vessel.

Passage planning requires that all hazards are taken into account and avoided. The trawlers in the area presented a significant hazard for the submarine. This risk could have been avoided by better planning and execution of the submarine’s passage.

Automatic identification system (AIS) data is used by submarines to aid situational awareness; therefore, it is important for fishing vessels fitted with AIS to transmit all the time.

In an emergency situation, use of the digital selective calling (DSC) distress key will rapidly raise the alarm and also ensure that the coastguard receive the distressed vessel’s position.


The recommendations (2016/144 and 2016/145) in this case were put in place  to ensure that the Royal Navy has the necessary training and procedures in place to prevent a further recurrence.


NIFPO Chief Slams Royal Navy

Dick James, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation, has expressed his sadness at the Royal navy’s response to the MAIB inquiry. He said: “It is sad that the Royal Navy did not really cooperate with the inquiry fully. They denied the MAIB access to information about the incident.

“They have not divulged everything to the investigators. This augers poorly for the fishing industry with a safety message that is paper thin. They seem to have little remorse about the incident and seem to be little concerned about it.

“The key issue now is that the NIFPO and its members and the wider fishing community still don’t feel safe now whilst these submarines trans the Irish Sea. Basically nothing has changed. The MAIB recommendations may not be followed.

“The NIFPO is meeting with the Royal  Navy on the 14 November but we will have to see what more we can get from them regarding this almost disastrous incident.”


Ritchie Says RN Must Act Upon Report Findings 

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has said the Royal Navy must act upon the findings of a report into a submarine accident that almost sank a fishing trawler last year.

The report detailed failings the Royal Navy that led to a submarine dragging an Ardglass prawn trawler  causing significant damage and distress.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie is concerned that the Royal Navy made serious errors of judgement over the Karen incident.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie is concerned that the Royal Navy made serious errors of judgement over the Karen incident.

Ms Ritchie said: “The incident caused consternation and a state of fear not only for the skipper and his crew but also for the wider fishing community in Ardglass and Kilkeel. This report will only provide partial solace to those involved.

“Whilst an acceptable and welcome acknowledgement of responsibility was eventually given by the Royal Navy along with an apology and an offer of compensation, this independent report published today clearly illustrates the disregard of the Royal Navy for the safety of our fishing vessels and their crews as well as their ignorance of the type of ships operating in the area.

“The Royal Navy had assessed that the majority of shipping in the area were merchant vessels when in actual fact they were trawlers. Had the submarine’s command team appreciated the high density of fishing vessels this accident would have been prevented.

“Perhaps more damning for the Royal Navy is that for nearly five months after the incident, they tried to disguise the fact that they were responsible for the incident which severely damaged the MV Karen. They then took ten months to submit evidence to the investigation team even though they assured me in subsequent meetings that they would submit information quickly.

“I have demanded an urgent meeting with the new Minister for the British Armed Forces to ensure that answers are now provided on the levels of submarine activity in the Irish Sea.

“The Minister must also provide assurances to the skipper and crew of the MV Karen and to the wider fishing industry that actions have been taken to prevent a repeat of this incident. They deserve no less and it must now happen.”

Celtic League Say IMO Should Be Involved

“The MAIB report into the snagging of the MFV Karen is one of the most extensive and analytic reports of this type I have seen and I have studied a few,” said Bernard Moffat, Celtic League spokesman.

“The reports detail is all the more impressive given that there is a hidden sub text that the RN and MOD were not forthcoming about the incident.

The IFO office in London.
The IFO office in London.

“There seems little doubt now that this was a SSBN – a ballistic missile submarine departing Faslane for the periodic deterrent deployment. The MOD refusal to comment and the subsequent months of silence establish this in my view beyond doubt.

“The RN ballistic deterrent operates on a war footing and there would be limited if any communication once the vessel has left port until its return. The patrol cannot be interpreted because there is no vessel to takes its place.

“The subs tend to favour departure via the Irish Sea because acoustically it’s a noisy sea and the submarine which can expect to be shadowed if identified by a hunter-killer submarine from the Russian Federation indeed may have been trying to conceal itself in the wide range of shipping noise and activity the report makes clear was ongoing in the area at the time.

“There is obvious anger and indignation amongst the fishermen of N Ireland and politicians and political shots will be fired over this.

“However, the issue is not confined to the Royal Navy and it’s only an agreed International code adhered to be the entire submarine operating powers that will improve things.

“Because it was an RN submarine there has albeit reluctantly been an admission and an inquiry had it been a US or Russian submarine very likely the crew of the Karen could still be seeking answers.

“There needs to be action in London but not at Westminster but across the Thames at 4 Albert Embankment, the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation.”

Similar Posts: mod-admit-one-of-their-submarines-almost-sank-the-karen