Ritchie Questions Minister On Submarine Activity In Irish Sea

The mystery of the near sinking of the Ardglass trawler, the Karen, by a yet unindentified submarine is still not solved despite significant efforts being made by senior politicians, industry representatives and fishermen to get to the bottom of the near fatal accident at sea.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has asked the Secretary of State for Defence to explain submarine activity in the Irish Sea following the damage of the Karen, a 55-foot prawn trawler on 15 April.

[caption id="attachment_56103" align="alignleft" width="390"]A rough comparison of the size of a nuclear submarine and the Karen. A rough comparison of the size of a nuclear submarine and the Karen.[/caption]

Ms Ritchie said: “I wrote to the Minister for the Armed Forces about the registered Northern Ireland fishing vessel that had its gear snagged by a submarine in the Irish Sea. I raised this matter again today in Defence questions in Westminster.

“The Minister confirmed that no discussions have taken place between the NI Executive and the MoD regarding submarine activity in the Irish Sea in the last twelve months.

“The Minister is confident that no UK submarines were involved in this incident but she must determine which jurisdiction is undertaking submarine activity in the Irish Sea, activity that it is interfering with fishing efforts.

[caption id="attachment_56031" align="alignright" width="270"]Karen skipper Paul Murphy examines the steels ropes that snapped when the submarine towed his vessel backwards at 10 knots. Back in Ardglass port following his ordeal, Karen skipper Paul Murphy examining the steels ropes that snapped when the submarine towed his vessel backwards at 10 knots.[/caption]

“I will continue to raise this matter with the Minister and the Secretary of State to ensure that a similar incident does not reoccur and that whoever is responsible for this damage is pursued for compensation,”  added Ms Ritchie.

The Karen, a wooden hulled stern trawler, was dragged backwards for about ten seconds with great force by a huge submarine on 14 April and as the vessel spun run and was on the verge of capsizing at great risk to the five fishermen on board, one of the two trawl wire ropes snapped and saved them. A crewman then released the break on the wire drum and the remaining wire rope was pulled out by the submarine releasing the trawler.

On 8 May, another Ardglass trawler, the Deliverance, scooped up the net from the Karen from the seabed in its nets close to the scene of the incident 12 miles east off the County Down coast. The Karen’s net had no trawl door, warps or fittings on it suggesting they had been cut of using burning and cutting gear by divers.

The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau (MAIB) immediately impounded the net as evidence when it was landed, but the MAIB is still pondering over whether to run a full investigation on the incident which nearly cost the lives of five fishermen.

Karen skipper Paul Murphy said: “We are still waiting on answers from government departments. The MAIB said a month ago it would be looking closely to see if an investigation was in order.

“This was a very scary experience. Myself and my four crew members are lucky to be alive. It was just a matter of seconds before we were going to capsize and one of the wire ropes gave way saving us.

“For the past ten years and probably longer, trawlers have gone missing and while I can understand some inevitable casualties at sea, I find it difficult to accept that they are all ‘natural’ accidents. There is a strong possibility that submarines are involved in these losses.

“The whole fishing industry is deeply concerned about this. No-one should be going to sea for fear of being pulled down by a submarine. Ours is probably the most dangerous job in the country as it is and the presence of submarine sin our waters is a real added risk to the fishermen.

“There was speculation it was a Russian submarine but the fishermen need proper answers. Our real fear now is, who will be pulled down by a submarine next?”