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Shipwreck blamed on open hatches

A failure to close several hatches on the Sapphire trawler, which sank last year with the loss of four lives, was partly to blame for the tragedy, investigators revealed yesterday.

A safety bulletin, issued by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in advance of the conclusion of the inquiry, said the open weather-tight hatches "almost certainly contributed to the rapid and catastrophic flooding of all the main compartments". It continued: "Escape from a vessel in such a situation is extremely difficult."

The MAIB also blamed inadequate maintenance for the failure of the trawler's emergency positioning radio beacon.

The only survivor, skipper Victor Robertson, escaped through the wheelhouse window as the trawler sank in rough weather as it returned to Peterhead harbour in Scotland. The families of the dead men began an appeal to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds after the Government refused to finance the recovery of the bodies of Victor Podlesny, Adam Stephen, Robert Stephen and Bruce Cameron.

The shipping minister, Glenda Jackson, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pledged to review the Government's policy on wreck-raising.