Northern Ireland

Ardglass trawler: Ministry of Defence admits UK submarine damaged fishing boat

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Media captionSkipper Paul Murphy estimated the damage caused to his trawler would cost about £10,000 to fix

A Royal Navy submarine was responsible for damaging a fishing trawler that it towed at speed through the Irish Sea, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

The boat sustained significant damage after the submarine snagged its fishing nets and pulled it backwards 18 miles off the County Down coast in April.

Its skipper said at the time his crew were lucky to escape unharmed, and the damage would cost about £10,000 to fix.

The MoD has now said a British submarine was involved in the incident.

It had previously said it did not comment on submarine activity.

Risk

But "new information" had emerged to show a UK submarine was responsible for damaging the boat, named the MV Karen, the Royal Navy said.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, 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."

Ms Mordaunt 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.

Image caption Mr Murphy said his trawler almost capsized as it was dragged backwards through the sea

Paul Murphy, the trawler's skipper, was told of the development in a letter from the Royal Navy on Monday morning.

Shaken

The Royal Navy apologised to Mr Murphy and his crew for causing what it said was a "frightening incident", and said the MoD would be contacting him to discuss compensation.

At the time, Mr Murphy said the boat almost capsized as it was dragged through the sea.

The four crew members on board reacted quickly to release the safety net, Mr Murphy said, but were left shaken.

Northern Ireland's Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was "appalled and astonished at the actions of the MoD".

She added: "Why does it take the MoD almost five months to come clean and admit what it has done?

Misplaced

"We were told there was no allied submarine within 150 miles of the incident.

"We were led to believe this was an unsanctioned action by an unidentified nation."

The SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said the government should have admitted its involvement "immediately" after the incident.

She was told in June by Ms Mordaunt that the Royal Navy had "confidence that no UK submarine was involved".

Ms Ritchie said: "The minister's confidence was very clearly misplaced and it's imperative that she appears before the Commons to offer a full explanation."

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