An inquest into the deaths of crewmen on the French trawler Bugaled Breizh, which sank suddenly off the Lizard in January 2004, has ruled out any submarine involvement.
Lawyers for the crew’s families have always maintained that the trawler’s gear could have become entangled with a submarine, dragging it down.
But after a three-week inquest in the High Court in London in October, Judge Nigel Lickley QC, who was acting as coroner, concluded there was no submarine involvement in the sinking.
The judge said the vessel was likely to have sunk due to one of its trawl doors becoming fast in mud, causing it to heel over, take on water and capsize, and that it was ‘wholly fanciful’ that a submarine had caused the sinking.
In 2016, France’s top judicial court closed its investigation after finding no evidence to support the submarine theory.
Five men died in the incident, but only the bodies of skipper Yves Marie Gloaguen, 45, and Pascal Lucien Le Floch, 49, were recovered in a search operation. They were taken ashore in Cornwall, which was the reason for the inquest being held in the UK.
The body of Patrick Gloaguen, 35, was recovered later when the vessel was salvaged and taken to France. The bodies of the two remaining crew members, Georges Lemetayer, 60, and Eric Guillamet, 42, have never been found.
The inquest heard there had been three submarines – Dutch, German and British – operating within 100 nautical miles of the vessel at the time it sank, but the MoD said none of its submarines were active in the area where the French trawler sank. Evidence from expert witnesses indicated that the relatively light damage to the vessel’s trawl gear was inconsistent with entanglement with a powerful military submarine.
“The Bugaled Breizh had disappeared in a few minutes leaving very little behind. I can understand how thoughts can develop afterwards,” Judge Lickley said.
“I have no doubt that the fact a submarine was seen at the scene – doing nothing other than assisting in the search – caused speculation to run as to a submarine being involved in the sinking.”
He said the Dutch, German and British submarines operating in the English Channel were ‘many miles away’ at the time of the sinking.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I am satisfied that no other identified allied submarine of any type or class was in the area at the time, and that includes submarines from the US,” he said.
“So far as the idea still persists today, I reject it as wholly fanciful and unfounded.”
Judge Lickley also ruled out a collision with another vessel, a hard snag or mechanical failure.
“I am satisfied the cause of the sinking was a soft snag of the trawl rig on the seabed, that in combination with other factors, caused the Bugaled Breizh to heel to port, take on water, move to starboard causing the crew quarters to flood, and she sank rapidly,” he said.
He gave the cause of death for Mr Le Floch and Mr Gloaguen as drowning, and recorded conclusions of ‘accident’.
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here. Main image credit: PA