Solway Harvester raised from the sea bed six months after tragedy

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The Independent Online

The fishing vessel Solway Harvester was lifted from the sea near the Isle of Man last night, raising hopes of discovering why it sank suddenly, with the loss of all seven crew, five months ago.

The fishing vessel Solway Harvester was lifted from the sea near the Isle of Man last night, raising hopes of discovering why it sank suddenly, with the loss of all seven crew, five months ago.

All the men who died were from small villages in the south-west of Scotland, and friends said there was a sense of relief last night that the waiting for the boat to be raised was over.

The Solway Harvester, which sank on 11 January, was brought to the surface about 8.45pm after a 90-minute operation by a salvage vessel sent from the Isle of Man.

It was being pumped out last night and was due to be refloated before being taken by a tug at 6am to Ramsay harbour on the island, where it is expected to arrive about midday today. It will then be put on to a slipway to be examined by police and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch. Investigators have so far had to rely on underwater video evidence collected by divers and raising the boat, a scallop dredger, is seen as the key to finding the cause of the sinking.

The seven men who died - the skipper, Andrew Craig Mills, 29, his brother Robin, 33, their cousin David, 17, Martin Milligan, 26, John Murphy, 22, David Lyons, 18, and Wesley Jolly, 17 - were all from the villages of Isle of Whithorn, Whithorn and Garlieston in the Machars area of Galloway.

Last night the minister for the villages, the Rev Alex Currie, said the lifting of the vessel would help families move on in coming to terms with the tragedy. "This will be the next step in the process for us all. I am sure that the fact that the vessel has been raised will help us move on to the next step of finding out what happened. There will be a mixture of emotions among the families. They wanted this vessel raised to find out what happened and that will be the next step for them."

John Scoular, a friend of the victims and spokesman for the Isle of Whithorn community, said there was a feeling of relief in the area. "We are just vastly relieved that the long waiting period is over and we will now wait and see if our questions about what happened will answered," he said.

Previous efforts to lift the vessel ran into difficulty because of poor conditions. Last week, an anchor cable snapped on a salvage vessel sent to recover the fishing boat. The MV Norma returned to Douglas harbour on the Isle of Man for repair workers to fit a replacement over the weekend.

The bodies of the crew were recovered by divers in February, after the Isle of Man government pledged to take the men back home to their families for burial. They were flown to RAF West Freugh where they were met by the Lord Lieutenant of Galloway and a police guard of honour.

The men's funerals were held later in two churches, in Whithorn and the Isle of Whithorn.

In the same month, two sister ships of the Solway Harvester were detained by maritime surveyors when they were found to be unseaworthy because of "significant safety flaws".

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