Netted: the pair who stole a trawler to get home

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The Independent Online

Two men who stole a fishing boat to return to Dublin after missing their ferry home ended up sailing round in circles for hours before putting out a Mayday call to be rescued.

Stephen Brennan and John Mahoney, who have no sailing experience, took the 30ft trawler, worth £40,000 from Holyhead in Anglesey, north Wales, and tried to sail the 67 miles across the Irish Sea on Saturday evening. They were seen by two anglers who alerted the boat's owner.

Having manoeuvred the boat, Le Bon Mawr, out of the harbour, they steered at full throttle, believing that they would soon be home, but a couple of hours later the pair realised that they were lost.

At about 10pm, after spending some time twiddling with the radio, they put out a Mayday call, prompting a rescue mission by an RAF Sea King helicopter, a lifeboat from Holyhead and a coastguard cliff-rescue team.

"They thought they were speaking to coastguards in Ireland; they were very surprised when they realised they were talking to Holyhead," Ray Steadman, of the Holyhead lifeboat, said.

"They had no experience of the sea whatever. They didn't even know how to switch the cabin light on."

The men were eventually located at about 2am yesterdayoff Wylfa in Anglesey, having sailed 12 miles in the wrong direction.

Mr Steadman said the would-be sailors had been panicked and were pleased to have been found. They were then towed into Holyhead and handed to police, who arrested the pair on suspicion of criminal damage after the owner of the boat, Paul Jones, made a complaint.

Mr Jones, 38, a fisherman, told police officers that the duo might have seriously damaged the boat's engine after finding oil spread over it. He runs a one-man business fishing in the Irish Sea for skate, cod and plaice. At first he thought the boat was undamaged, but a more thorough inspection later proved otherwise.

Mr Jones said: "I am very upset. This is my livelihood ... they revved the engine up to the maximum and left it like that. I still owe money for the boat. To me this is very serious."

A spokesman for North Wales Police said the men were at first released with a caution for taking the boat without authority because they had no previous convictions.

When the vessel's owner later reported that he believed the engine had been damaged, they were rearrested and were in custody awaiting interview.

Inspector Chris Jolley, of North Wales Police, said "probably alcohol had a part to play" in the incident.