Families bid for private sea search to find missing Conwy fishermen

By Chris Dearden
BBC Wales News

image copyrightFamily photos
image captionAlan Minard, Ross Ballantine and Carl McGrath have been missing at sea for a month

Families of three fishermen missing off the Welsh coast have sought advice from an expert nicknamed "shipwreck hunter" in a bid to find their loved ones.

Ocean recovery expert David Mearns, who found wreckage of the plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala, is helping the families with "technical advice".

Now they are trying to raise £75,000 to pay for a private search to find Ross Ballantine, 39, Alan Minard, 20, and skipper Carl McGrath, 34.

Their vessel was last seen in January.

The Nicola Faith crew failed to return to port at Conwy in north Wales after a fishing trip on 27 January.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) are investigating but now families want to enlist a private rescue team - like one led by Mr Mearns to find Mr Sala in 2019 - that specialises in deep water search and recovery operations.

Mr Mearns, who helped find the plane carrying football player Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson in 2019 in the English Channel, said he thinks if the boat sank "within sight of land, it can definitely be found".

"So far I've been providing the families with technical advice about how to search for the boat and the best way to raise the funding to pay for it," said Mr Mearns.

media captionMissing fishermen are "out there somewhere"

"Hopefully the people of Conwy and the broader fishing community can help bring these men home to their families."

A major two-day search to find the Nicola Faith - last seen off the coast at Rhos on Sea on the evening of 27 January - was called off after several coastguard vessels, lifeboats, sonar planes and helicopters searched several hundred square miles for the 10m (33ft) fishing vessel.

image captionThe Nicola Faith fishing boat and its crew have been missing since 27 January

MAIB have also searched extensively but a month after they disappeared fishing for whelks in the Irish Sea, the men or the boat has not been found - and the families want to raise money for private help.

Lowri Taylor, sister of Mr Ballantine, said Mr Mearns had told them they needed to "act fast and get money raised before it's potentially too late".

"We need the money to get the expertise of deep sea searching specialists and utilise the best equipment," she said.

image captionLowri Taylor said the families needed answers

"This can build on the great work already done by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch who as a government agency have limited time, resources and funding they can put into this search.

"We've spoken to officials at the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and they're happy for us to do this.

"We don't want to tread on their toes. We just need to make sure the biggest possible effort goes into finding what happened, and finding the men on board."

A Crowdfunding page for the search raised more than £7,500 in 24 hours.

Nathania Minard, the mother of Alan Minard, set up the page because families had so many "unanswered questions" about what had happened and needed closure.

"Closure is critical to enable the families to move forward, remember the good times rather than worry about what happened on that fateful day," she said.

"Three families are distraught and desperate for answers, but mostly just want their three men home".

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