Cold War Undersea Menace Returns to Haunt Fishermen

NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE

Just two months after we speculated that increased tension between NATO and the Russian Federation could lead to deadly undersea activities which would pose a renewed threat to fishermen the first incident appears to have occurred.

Last week the Scottish trawler Aquarius appears to have been snagged by a submarine 10 miles off Lewis. The snagged gear only seems to have parted when the undersea object caused part of the fishing boats nets to come into contact with the vessels propeller (see reports here):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31999657

https://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/scottish-trawler-tangles-with-suspected-russian-sub-1-3724842

During the Cold War when NATO and the Warsaw Pact the waters around the Celtic countries became a ‘jousting ground’ for the submarines and associated auxiliaries of the opposing powers. There were many serious incidents including the mysterious losses of up to 30 fishing trawlers (MFVs). In only two sinkings (that of the MFV Sheralga in 1982 and the MFV Antares in 1990 was direct submarine involvement proven, in both instances it involved Royal Navy submarines. The crew of the Sheralga survived but the Antares crew were not so lucky, all drowned.

As a consequence of these incidents and many other snaggings of MFVs the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) under pressure from governments such as the Irish and NGOs like the Celtic League eventually adopted binding resolutions to safeguard fishermen in areas where submarines were operational.

In January on the anniversary of the loss of the Breton trawler Bugaled Breizh (thought to have been accidentally sunk during a NATO exercise) we wrote to all submarine operating powers asking what steps they have taken to implement the IMO rules. To date only the German government has responded positively (see links):

https://www.celticleague.net/news/german-assurance-of-strict-application-of-imo-safety-code/

https://www.celticleague.net/news/submarine-threat-to-fishing-safety-governments-challenged/

Be under no illusion there is no contest when a Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV) is entangled by a submarine. The MFV may have several hundred metres of cable and a large fishing net deployed.

For its part the submarine maybe using a towed array communications system (SURTASS) which extends up to half a mile behind the submerged vessel.

Once the two collide it is no contest the MFV may by 100-150 tonnes the submarine between 4500 and 8500. A ballistic missile submarine such as those used by the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom has the same displacement as a Light Cruiser in WW 2.

Separation zones and regulation for separation laid down by the IMO puts the emphasis on the submarine to avoid the trawler but as far as we can elicit only the German Navy have training on these regulations as part of their standard training for submariners.

Nor is their any degree of openness when an accident occurs. In the Aquarius incident last week the Royal Navy said that “there were no UK or NATO submarines in the area at the time”.

However that is exactly what they said initially after the MFV Sheralga incident in 1982 and only retracted it after the Celtic League revealed that the submarine involved (HMS Porpoise) had been photographed off the west coast of the Isle of Man by a League member (the late Deirdre Moffatt) just hours before the Irish trawler was sunk.

The photo, one of a series taken at the time was published subsequently in Carn Summer 1982 Page 23 (link):

https://www.celticleague.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Carn%2038%20Summer%201982.pdf

Despite the headline after the latest incident that a Russian submarine was the culprit there is no way of saying definitely that it was the case. With a major exercise involving ships, submarines and aircraft underway this week it is more than likely that a NATO submarine was involved (link).

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-to-lead-major-military-exercise-off-coast-of-scotland

After all when the NATO shipping inventory for the exercise held when the crew of the Bugaled Breizh perished (in 2004) up to seven submarines from the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands were involved.

What is clear is that a problem we thought had ended almost two decades ago seems set to reoccur. Perhaps the Celtic League needs to consider reactivating its military monitoring campaign which ran from 1976 – 1996.

Footnote:

In the late 1980s many TDs and MPs supported the Celtic League campaigns for tough international action by this time the Celtic League had built up a dossier of between 20-30 suspicious sinkings and over 140 incidents and accidents involving snaggings and collisions.

One of our most energised supporters was Hugh Byrne TD and these are reports from the Oireachtas where he both raises the issue giving examples and highlights the role of the Celtic League:

https://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/zoomin?readform&chamber=dail&memberid=145&pid=HughByrne&year=1989&month=03&day=07

https://debates.oireachtas.ie/seanad/1990/12/05/00008.asp

https://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/1984/02/09/00015.asp

J B Moffatt (Mr)

Director of Information
Celtic League

24/03/15

(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)

ISSUED BY THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE

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

Internet site at:

thie


https://groups.yahoo.com/group/celtic_league

Share this!
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Youtube
Contact us