Submarine alert system faces axe

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(First Edition)

SCOTTISH fishermen were yesterday demanding an immediate clarification from the Department of Transport over comments by Britain's chief coastguard that the future of the submarine warning system, broadcast daily to fishermen, may be axed.

Warnings of submarine activity in designated areas around Scottish coastal waters were introduced almost two years ago after the crew of a Clyde fishing boat, the Antares, died when their vessel was dragged down by a Royal Navy submarine.

However, Commander Derek Ancona, a retired naval officer now in charge of the coastguard service, has rejected plans to extend the warning service and questioned the value of the system.

Commander Ancona claims that the warnings, on specialist frequencies, are a threat to safety because they tie up search and rescue frequencies for up to three hours each day.

The validity of the commander's decision to criticise submarine warnings - which give four hour notice of submarine activity in a specified area - is being questioned by senior officials at the Clyde submarine base in Faslane. They claim any abandonment of the system will undo two years of good work which has seen a marginal improvement in the relations between the Navy and the fishing community after the Antares.

Although initially reluctant to give out locational information on nuclear submarines, the Ministry of Defence subsequently relented. Commander Ancona, claiming that the warnings are of 'debatable value' and that other systems, notably the Navigational Warning System and British Telcom's network of relay stations, do a similar task, says he wants his job to be concerned with 'search and rescue, not broadcasting'.

Patrick Stewart, secretary of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, said he was 'determined that Commander Ancona would not be allowed to carry out this unilateral threat'.

'I have been informed that the comamnder actually has the authority to prevent the warning network from being extended and to cut existing services. I am now demanding the Scottish Secretary of State, Ian Lang, and the MoD and the Department of Transport intervene to sort out this mess.'

He said since the system was introduced it has worked well, with no reported incidents involving trawlers and submarines.