The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is seeking answers over a concerning incident when a UK submarine collided with the nets of an Ardglass based trawler ‘MV Karen’, 18 miles off the County Down coast. Despite happening in April 2015, (1) amidst media reports that it could have been a Russian submarine, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has just confirmed some five months later that it was a British submarine that was responsible. (2)
The boat sustained significant damage after the submarine snagged its fishing nets and pulled it backwards. Only for the quick thinking of its crew in cutting the nets was a more serious incident averted. It is estimated that the damage to the boat is around £10,000 (€13,800). The Ministry of Defence has indicated it would pay compensation to the captain and owner of the boat.
In a written statement to the UK Parliament, Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt said: “The incident, the delay in identifying and addressing the events on that day, and their consequences are deeply regretted. This incident occurred because the submarine did not correctly identify the Karen as a fishing vessel with nets in the water, and thus did not give her the berth she would otherwise have had.”
The Minister also added that, had the submarine crew been aware of the incident, protocols required it to surface and remain on scene while the matter was investigated.
For the NFLA, this incident raises a series of important concerns:
- This is one of a number of incidents involving fishing trawlers and submarines around the British and Irish Isles. It is a major public safety issue that puts the fishermen’s lives directly at risk.
- Why was a UK submarine so close to the coast of Northern Ireland? It has been understood previously that naval exercises take place in the north east Atlantic and not the Irish Sea.
- Why did it take MOD so long to admit to it, allowing the media to blame it on Russia in April?
- Which submarine was at fault? Was it a Trident submarine, potentially having nuclear weapons on board?
- Is there a full inquiry taking place on the incident, and can the public learn of its lessons?
- What is the view of the Republic of Ireland Government on this matter?
This follows on directly from some of the safety concerns around UK submarines raised by the ‘whistleblower’ William McNeilly a few months ago. (3) NFLA calls on the MOD to provide much more information on this incident to Parliament and to respond to wider concerns over why it was in this part of the Irish Sea as well.
NFLA agrees with the local MP Margaret Ritchie that the MOD should have admitted it was its submarine involved in the incident months ago, given that as recently as June it was claiming to Parliament that a British submarine was not involved. NFLA also shares the view of the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill of being ‘astonished and appalled’ by the MOD’s actions with this incident.
NFLA is also becoming increasingly concerned on the amount of incidents where UK submarines are coming into close contact with fishing trawlers. A similar incident has just come to light off the coast of Donegal. In this incident an Astute class submarine was only 200 yards from a trawler, which had to slow down in order to avoid a collision. The captain of this trawler said this was the second time in a year such an incident has happened, just 14 miles off the Donegal coast. (4)
NFLA All Ireland Co-Chair Councillor Michael Carr said:
I am shocked that it has taken the MOD so long to come clean and admit that a British submarine was involved in an incident that could have led to the sinking of the MV Karen. Our fishing fleets in ports like Ardglass and across Ireland incur daily risks in their work trawling the Irish Sea and the North East Atlantic. They do not need the additional worry of colliding their nets with submarines that should not have even been close to this part of the Irish coastline.”
NFLA All Ireland Co -Chair Councillor Mark Dearey added:
This troubling incident should concern both governments in Dublin and in Belfast. I am concerned that UK submarines are travelling so close to the coastline of Northern Ireland and so close to Republic of Ireland territorial waters. These incidents suggest there may be occasions when such submarines are entering close or into Irish territorial waters. I would also be concerned that fishing vessels going out of Dundalk and Clogherhead are being potentially exposed to danger if these submarines are not able to identify fishing boats when they have their nets out and are in our territorial waters. I call on the Irish Government to make representations to UK Ministers to urgently seek clarification on these incidents.”
NFLA plans to focus some of its upcoming All Ireland Forum seminar on this matter, to inform councillors of recent incidents and the wider concerns around them. (5)
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 0161 234 3244 or 07771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC News Online, ‘Russian submarine’ suspected of damaging trawler in Irish Sea, 16th April 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-34177386
(2) BBC News Online, Ardglass trawler: Ministry of Defence admits UK submarine damaged fishing boat, 7th September 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/uk-northern-ireland-32333336
(3) NFLA Media Release, 8th June 2015 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/news/NFLA_Trident_and_cruise_missiles.pdf
(4) Sunday World, Donegal fisherman encounters military submarine for the second time in a year, 9th September 2015 https://www.sundayworld.com/entertainment/trending/donegal-fisherman-encounters-military-submarine
(5) The NFLA All Ireland Forum seminar will take place in Dundalk Town Hall on Friday October 30th. A full programme will appear on the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info shortly.