• December 2, 2014



It is reported that Russian military incursions into the waters around the NATO countries are on the increase and if there is one thing that the lesson of history tells us it is that for every visible military presence there is a hidden undersea menace.

Throughout the decades from 1970 – 1990 the Cold War ranged and no where was this more evident than in the range of submarine traffic around the waters of the United Kingdom.

The deadly duel between the undersea forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact inevitability led to casualties however these were not felt by the military but by the fishing communities of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brittany.

The Celtic League monitored this activity extensively and built up a dossier of what now probably seems like a conservative estimate of between 150 – 170 incidents.

The military admitted little and generally trying to extract information was like trying to ‘draw hen’s teeth’.

However, occasionally sympathetic politicians did press for answers and none was more vociferous in pursuing the issue than George Foulkes (now Lord Foulkes).

George Foulkes became a bit of a bête-noire to Scottish nationalist during the recent referendum but in the decade from 1980 – 1990 he was a good friend to the Celtic League pressing the United Kingdom government on a range of military issues including the menace posed by submarines to fishermen.

As indicated above accurate statistics were hard to come by but Foulkes was able to ascertain that in the case of several suspicious sinking’s around Scotland and in the Irish Sea no proper maritime accident enquiries were held.

In November 1991 it was admitted following pressure from him in parliament that in relation to fishing vessels (a) Girl Fiona, (b) Inspire, (c) Alert II, (d) Boy Shaun, (e) Sylvia Marita, (f) Jake II, (g) Tarradale II, (h) Pearl, (i) Mhari L and (j) South Stack
no Marine Accident Investigation Branch inquiries had been held.

A spokesman for the UK government simply said:

“All the accidents occurred before July 1989, when the marine accident investigation branch was set up. Under the pre-existing system losses were investigated by the Department’s surveyors, but there was no provision for making reports available for general release, unless the accident was subject to public inquiry. The loss of Boy Shaun, being an Irish vessel, will have been investigated by the Irish authorities. None of the incidents listed by the hon. Member led to such an inquiry.”
Almost thirty men were lost in these tragedies which did not warrant a full enquiry and they are part of a greater number lost from Biscay to the Pentland Firth over three decades.
Foulkes was also able to get a handle on the extent of the problem when he pressed the government on the number of confirmed MFV and submarine incidents in a three year window from 1989 – 1991 (at a time the Cold War was winding down).
The government confirmed that incidents had occurred as follows:



Vessel                                                                   Date of Incident

New Dawn                                                               3 January 1989

Lau Ann                                                                  22 January 1989

Spes Bona (and Arturus and Strathayre)          27 February 1989

Seagull                                                                      31 March 1989

Northern Lights                                                    31 March 1989

Laurel                                                                      17 April 1989

Huntress                                                             28 June 1989

Scotia                                                                  13 November 1989

Sarah Marie                                                        7 December 1989

Moray Adventurer                                            4 October 1990

Antares                                                               22 November 1990

Green Eagle                                                      14 December 1990

Delvan                                                              13 February 1991

Maritan                                                             19 February 1991

Hercules II                                                      February 1991

Wavecrest, Alpha and Athena                     6 March 1991

Swyn-Y-Mor                                                   20 March 1991

Saffron                                                           12 November 1991

All were UK vessels except the Laurel—Isle of Man—and the Sarah Mardie—Jersey.

The Antares incident incidentally was the final straw (all crew members lost when she was sunk in collision with a British nuclear submarine) following this new regulations were introduced.

From 1991 onwards as both the US and Soviet submarine fleets disengaged the level of incidents fell dramatically, although suspicious sinking’s have still occurred, such as the Breton MFV Bugaled Breizh in January 2004.
With East West military tension now increasing are we in for a deadly rerun of the undersea war games that undoubtedly cost so many lives?

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)
The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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