Hopes rise for retrieval of bodies on trawler

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The Independent Online

Hopes rose last night that the bodies of seven fisherman drowned last week in the Irish Sea will be recovered after one body was spotted on board the wreck.

Hopes rose last night that the bodies of seven fisherman drowned last week in the Irish Sea will be recovered after one body was spotted on board the wreck.

Sources close to the investigation into the loss of the Solway Harvester believe that the other six bodies may be below deck where the crew are thought to have been asleep when disaster struck. The Solway Harvester was 11 miles off the Isle of Man, heading back to port in Kirkcudbright on the Scottish coast on January 11, when she foundered.

Normally, after completing a fishing trip, the crew of the scallop dredger would have left one person to bring the boat home while the others rested.

Early yesterday morning, a survey vessel, the Mansal 18, returned to port on the Isle of Man, after using a small submersible to record almost 10 hours of video tape of the wrecked vessel which is lying in over 100ft of water. The body was located within the wreck on the gutting deck which is in the centre of the ship below the wheelhouse.

A camera had been lowered through a porthole to gain access to the deck and 40 per cent of the interior of the ship had been surveyed. The evidence will now be examined by investigators based in Southampton.

The next stage could be for divers to attempt to free any bodies still on board. However, police said that this may be too dangerous.

The Manx authorities were last night seeking heavy salvage equipment with a view to raising the whole of the Solway Harvester. Chief Constable Mike Culverhouse, of the Isle of Man Constabulary, said: "It is right on the extremity of what would be a safe zone for diving. All parties will decide on the best course of action but we want to make sure whatever we do is within the bounds of safety."

A model for such an operation would be the salvaging of the 76-tonne trawler Sapphire which sank in a storm 12 miles off Fraserburgh, Grampian, in October 1997, claiming the lives of four of the five-strong crew. Mr Culverhouse said: "The priority is to recover the bodies of the crew. We are determining the safest and most expeditious way of doing that."

Chief Inspector Dudley Butt, a senior investigating officer in the inquiry, said that there was as yet no indication of what caused the tragedy. "We are not aware of anything yet," he said. "It is down to the MAIB [Marine Accident Investigation Branch] to examine everything they have got," he said.

Families of the seven men are not believed to be on the island but it is thought likely they will have to travel to the capital, Douglas, to formally identify the bodies of the crew members, once any bodies are recovered.

The men who died were all from the Machars, an area of Galloway including Whithorn, the Isle of Whithorn and Garlieston.

They were skipper Andrew Craig Mills, 29; his brother Robin Mills, 33; their cousin David Mills, 18; John Murphy 22; Martin Milligan 26; David Lyons 17; and Wesley Jolly, 17.