Dolfijn (4) and the Bugaled Breizh
Dutch MOD: June 6th 3004
HNLMS Dolfijn was not involved in a collision with a French fishing vessel off the coast of England in January 2004. State Secretary Cees van der Knaap confirmed this on Tuesday (14 June) during the Question Hour in the House of Representatives. He said that the ship's journal had revealed that, at the time of the accident, the submarine of the Royal Netherlands Navy was some twenty kilometres away, on the surface. The commanding officer responded immediately to the distress calls and the submarine reached the scene quickly.
Expatia 7 May 2004
The Dutch Royal Navy has denied allegations by French fishing industry officials that one of its submarines involved in a Nato navy exercise off the British coast rammed a French fishing boat in January, resulting in the death of its five crew members.
Fishing representatives in Guilvinec and the adjoining harbour Loctudy in Brittany, north-western France, levelled fresh accusations against the Dutch vessel on Thursday. The head of the Guilvinec fishing association is convinced the ship was rammed during a military exercise.
The fishing boat Bugaled Breizh sunk in mysterious circumstances with five crew members on 15 January off the southern U.K. coast at Falmouth. The bodies of two of the victims were recovered.
Photos taken on the sea bottom of the wreck are alleged to indicate the boat was hit from under the water. Suspicion has fallen on the Dutch submarine Dolfijn, which was involved in the military exercise.
But a Dutch navy spokesman said on Friday the hr. ms. Dolfijn was on the surface of the ocean 15 to 20km from where the French ship sent out its distress call. He said it had been ruled out that the submarine had been involved in the accident.
The Dolfijn and its crew of 50 sailors was one of the first ships to assist in the rescue operation and searched in vain for survivors or victims for five hours.
Fishing sources in Loctudy — the home harbour of the sunken ship — claim the Dolfijn underwent repairs after the military exercise was completed, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
But the Dutch navy said the French were assuming that an inspection of the submarine in April was related to the alleged collision with the fishing boat. The navy claims the inspection was carried out after the Dolfijn collided with a cable in a Norwegian fjord.
The vessel — which the Dutch navy claims could not have caused the damage inflicted on the French boat — is presently moored in the Dutch port Den Helder.
The navy also dismissed claims from the French fishing sources that the crew of the Dolfijn will soon be required to give testimony in the Netherlands to determine the circumstances surrounding the sinking.
It also said a request from the French authorities to inspect the submarine has not been lodged with Dutch authorities. The French judiciary has also ruled out investigating possible Dutch involvement in the sinking, Dutch news agency Novum reported.
The Bugaled Breizh was in good working order, the crew was considered very capable and the weather on the day of the tragedy was reasonable. A Nato military exercise involving submarine combat was allegedly being conducted in the region where the boat sank.
According to reports all radio communication — possibly due to the Nato exercise — was disrupted at the time of the ship's sinking.
But both the French and British authorities — who have also ruled out an investigation into possible Dutch involvement in the collision — claim that the exercise was being conducted at a considerable distance from where the fishing boat went down.
They also claim the boat was hit and run down by a large, fast moving ship, possibly loaded with freight containers.
The BBC has previously reported the director of the Loctudy sea rescue service, Michel Cap, saying: "I can believe that on board a cargo ship they did not hear the shock of the collision, but it is impossible to believe the crew did not hear the distress signal put out by the British on channel 16".
French fishing authorities had warned in January they would open a judicial inquiry to identify the boat and its captain.
French trawler 'was sunk by sub'
BBc News - 24 March 2005
Marine accident experts investigating the sinking of a French trawler off the English coast last year have said the accident was caused by a submarine.
Five French trawlermen drowned when the Bugaled Breizh went down off the Lizard peninsula in January 2004.
At the time, a Nato exercise was underway involving the Dutch submarine the Dolfijn.
The Dutch embassy in Paris says the Dolfijn was at least 15km away at the time of the accident.
But marine accident experts, commissioned to investigate by the families of the Bugaled Breizh crew and the Guilvinec fishermen's committee, say the vessel was pulled under by a submarine.
At a news conference on Thursday, they said a submarine could have caught the trawler cable in its rudder or propeller which could have dragged down the back of the trawler.
"The trawler rears up immediately and sinks from the back end very quickly," they said.
"The submarine can resume its course without too much damage and furthermore the accident goes unnoticed by most of the crew."
This theory has always been denied by the Sea Accident Investigation Office.
The French news agency AFP reports that the experts did not have access to the wreck of the Bugaled Breizh.
In the meantime, official technical and judicial inquiries are being carried out into the accident.
But the Brest-based experts added in their report that other explanations were technically possible, including a collision with a rock or underwater wreck or equipment failure.
"While nothing can be formally proved, and nothing in the judicial file implicates any person in particular, I have the intimate conviction that the Bugaled Breizh was pulled down by a submarine," one of the experts said.
Western Morning News, 24 January 2004
The owner of the Pescado, which sank in one of the Westcountry's worst fishing disasters, yesterday put his weight behind calls for a full and open investigation into the sinking of the Bugaled Breizh.
Alan Ayres, co-owner of the South Devon fishing boat which sank with the loss of six lives in 1991, said all possible causes of the latest tragedy should be investigated.
He said: "I sincerely hope a thorough investigation is carried out and the families of the fishermen who died are given all the facts. There is certainly great suspicion over this one. Somebody somewhere will know exactly what happened, and when."
The Royal Navy yesterday insisted that a Dutch submarine was "nowhere near" the French trawler Bugaled Breizh when it sank with the loss of five lives off the Cornish coast last Thursday.
It also resisted growing pressure to order the submarine Dolfijn back into port for examination amid continuing speculation over what caused the trawler to sink.
An international military exercise involving submarines and warships was taking place off Cornish waters, when the Bugaled Breizh sank 14 miles off The Lizard. This, together with the fact that the Dolfijn was quickly on scene to help the search, has raised speculation.
Mr Ayres, who was initially charged but then cleared over the loss of life on the Pescado, has consistently maintained that the vessel was dragged to the bottom after snagging its nets on a submarine.
He said: "I have lived so close to something like this for so long. It just struck me right away with my painful knowledge of the sea."
He said if something on the surface caused the sinking, then surely the crew of a nearby vessel which raised the alarm, the Eridan, would have seen it.
"If the French raise the trawler I would like to go and look and see what the damage is. There may well be some interesting comparisons."
He pointed out that submarines had sophisticated equipment which meant the French trawler could not have sunk "unnoticed and unrecorded".
The team of French investigators hunting the vessel which allegedly rammed the Bugaled Breizh said the Dutch Dolfijn was "in close proximity" to the stricken trawler, but they still believe a cargo ship is the most likely culprit. But the Royal Navy yesterday reiterated that the Dolfijn was a substantial eight nautical miles away from the trawler when it sank. The submarine was in no way damaged and was still on exercise at a secret location. It had not planned to return to a Westcountry port. A spokesman said: "If there were any doubts about her condition she would not be on exercise. The Dolfijn was not involved - she was nowhere near."
The French acted quickly after the tragedy and sent a remotely-operated submarine down to the wreck. Investigators claim it has revealed evidence of a massive collision with a larger vessel caving in the starboard side of the bow.
They have also drawn up a list of cargo ships which may have been in the area.
Marine solicitor Charles Hattersley, from Plymouth law firm Foot Anstey Sargent, said the French authorities tended to be "very zealous" with their inquiries, but that it could prove very difficult to trace any cargo ships which might have been involved.
"It is not impossible that this was a genuine accident and that the vessel involved was so large that it did not realise there had been a collision," he said.
"If it was under the radar arc, in heavy seas and without a proper lookout on the bridge, it may have ploughed on without deviation."
The firm recently dealt with the case of a superyacht hit by a cargo vessel off Plymouth. Despite extensive investigations, the culprit proved impossible to trace. "It can be very difficult to trace the guilty parties," Mr Hattersley said.
Elizabeth Stevenson, of Newlyn fishing firm W Stevenson and Sons, said the fishing community needed answers to put an end to speculation. She said: "We want these questions answered quickly to prevent suspicion and speculation growing."
She knew of three trawlers working for the company in her lifetime which had had "contact" with submarines. These were the St Clair, the Algrie and the Cathryn. "One minute they were going along minding their own business fishing and the next they were going astern and, I think, listing quite badly," she said.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers' Organisation, said there were well-established protocols between the Navy and fishing vessels.
But it had taken "years and years" to conclude the Pescado case, and the French families deserved a "timely conclusion" where all the possibilities had been fully explored.
Those sentiments were echoed by the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, Andrew George, who has raised parliamentary questions with the Ministry of Defence. He said yesterday: "It is important that answers are provided. From my conversations with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency it appears that there are no records of shipping or other larger vessel movements in that area during the early afternoon of Thursday, January 15.
"Even though the investigation is being led by the French authorities, it is important that the British Government co-operates fully. Fishermen and their families from all nations will want reassurance at this time."
At Bristol Crown Court in 1996, the Pescado's joint owner Joseph O'Connor was convicted of manslaughter. Mr Ayers was cleared. The hearing was given a catalogue of evidence about the poor state of the vessel that, the prosecution claimed, contributed to her going down
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