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British submarine damaged Ardglass trawler, MoD admits

The Karen's skipper Paul Murphy holding a snapped steel cable after a British submarine snagged his trawler's nets. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

A BRITISH submarine was responsible for damaging an Ardglass fishing trawler, the Ministry of Defence has admitted, several months after it insisted no Royal Navy vessel was involved.

The crew of the 60-ft Karen trawler had a lucky escape when its fishing nets snared on a submarine 18 miles off the Ardglass coast on April 15.

The boat was dragged backwards at top speed for several seconds before its four crew members managed to release wires connecting the nets to the trawler.

At the time, skipper Paul Murphy estimated that repairs would cost more than £10,000.

In May, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie there was no British submarine activity off the Co Down coast at the time the trawler was damaged.

However, MoD minister Penny Mordaunt confirmed yesterday a British submarine was involved and apologised for the incident.

"The incident, the delay in identifying and addressing the events on that day, and their consequences are deeply regretted," she said.

She said the submarine's crew did not realise it had snagged the trawler's nets.

"Moreover, had the submarine been aware of the incident at the time, which it was not, then the protocols in place under the code of practice for submarine operations in the vicinity of fishing vessels would have required the submarine to surface and remain on scene while the matter was investigated," she said.

However South Down MP Margaret Ritchie called on Ms Mordaunt to make a full statement in the Commons.

She questioned why the minister initially said the Royal Navy was "confident" no British submarines were involved.

"I believe that the minister may have misled the House of Commons in both written and oral statements. If that is the case, I will be referring it to the appropriate authority," she said.

Ms Ritchie said the crew and owner of the trawler must now receive compensation.

"Fishermen must be confident that their vessels will not be damaged by submarine activity and where incident do take place, the Government will own up to it immediately," she said.

Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard asked why the British government initially denied that a Royal Navy submarine was involved.

"The British Government and MoD must now explain their actions, if any disciplinary measures will be taken arising out of this incident and how it will avoid similar incidents in the future," he said.

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