Naval exercises 'in area of wreck'

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The Independent Online
Submarines and a warship were in a sea exercise area, around the time the trawler Pescado sank there with all six crew, a court heard yesterday.

The 100-tonne scalloper sank 13 miles off Dodman Point, south Cornwall, after sailing from Falmouth on 25 February 1991.

As part of its investigation, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch asked the Ministry of Defence for information about the movement of naval vessels in the area between that date and 8 March 1991, Bristol Crown Court heard yesterday.

The MAIB's principal marine inspector in charge of the investigation, Brian Matthewson, said the Ministry had replied that there were three submarines conducting dive operations in the South West Approaches and in the Portland exercise areas at that time. But all were surface movements.

A Royal Navy submarine had left Plymouth for the South West Approaches on 3 March. Between 5 and 8 March a US submarine had been in surface transit from the South West Approaches to Portland, and a German submarine was in the Portland area.

HMS Cornwall, a Type 23 frigate, was also on station in the South West Approaches exercise area.

Mr Matthewson was giving evidence at the trial of the Pescado's two operators, 56-year-old Alan Ayres and 44-year-old Joseph O'Connor, both from Plymouth, who each deny six manslaughter charges arising from the deaths.

Ayres's counsel, Richard Lissack QC, asked Mr Matthewson if the markings on the hull of the Pescado were consistent with contact with a submarine. The witness replied: "No."

Defence counsel for O'Connor, Gilbert Gray QC, suggested: "You cannot say it is beyond all doubt there was never a collision in this case."

But Mr Matthewson replied: "The information we have does not indicate a collision." However, he agreed that he had never seen the raised wreck of the Pescado in or out of dry dock.

The trial was adjourned until today.