Inquest into deaths of trawlers killed off Cornwall resumes

Inquest into deaths of trawlers killed off Cornwall resumes

Inquest into deaths of two French trawlermen who were killed when their vessel capsized off Cornwall will consider whether nearby submarines were to blame, court hears

  • All five Frenchmen on board lost their lives when the Bugaled Breizh went down
  • The vessel went down 14 miles off Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall in January 2004
  • The bodies Yves Marie Gloaguen, 45, and Pascal Lucien Le Floch, 49, were found
  • An inquest into their deaths resumed at the High Court in London on Monday

An inquest into the deaths of two French trawlermen who were killed when their vessel capsized off the British coast will consider whether nearby submarines on exercises may have been involved.

All five Frenchmen on board lost their lives when the Bugaled Breizh went down 14 miles off the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall on January 15, 2004.

Only the bodies of French nationals Yves Marie Gloaguen, 45, and Pascal Lucien Le Floch, 49, were recovered in the search operation in the hours after the first distress calls were received. An empty life raft was also found.

An inquest into their deaths resumed at the High Court in London on Monday, presided over by Judge Nigel Lickley QC acting as a coroner.

The tragedy has striking similarities to the BBC drama Vigil, where a trawler was also downed by a submarine.

A picture taken on July 13, 2004, shows the wreckage of French trawler ‘Bugaled Breizh’

Newlyn Village Harbor during low tide. Boats had taken shelter here when conditions worsened 

The fact their bodies were brought back to the Royal Cornwall Hospital means under English law an inquest into their deaths must be held here.

The body of a third man, Patrick Gloaguen, 35, was recovered during a salvage operation to raise the Bugaled Breizh but was taken to France, and his death is therefore not the subject of an inquest.

The bodies of the two remaining crew members, Georges Lemetayer, 60, and Eric Guillamet, 42, were never found.

The question of whether submarines preparing for Nato training exercises may have been involved in the tragedy was raised repeatedly during a long-running investigation by the French authorities.

It has been suggested a submarine may have become entangled in the Bugaled Breizh’s trawling gear, causing it to capsize.

Thierry Lemetayer, son of Georges Lemetayer, one of the five victims of the Bugaled Breizh fishing vessel sinking, speaks to the press outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on October 4

The tragedy has striking similarities to the BBC drama Vigil, where a trawler was also downed by a submarine

But in 2016, France’s top judicial court confirmed the closure of its investigation after finding no evidence to support the theory, nor the possibility the vessel sank due to a fishing accident.

It has been suggested the Bugaled Breizh may have sunk due to a ‘soft snag’ – when a boat’s trawler nets get caught in mud on the seabed, pulling the vessel over when it tries to trawl.

In his opening remarks, Judge Lickley said: ‘The inquest should consider in proper detail the question of how the Bugaled Breizh came to sink, as part of that exercise we should look at whether any submarines might have been involved.’

He said the Ministry of Defence would be represented throughout, adding: ‘There has been considerable cooperation between the interested persons.’

The trawler went down 14 miles off the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (pictured), and relatives believe that a submarine became snagged in its nets

Judge Lickley said despite not being able to make findings of criminal or civil liability, if the evidence did point to another vessel being involved in the sinking ‘then I will say so’.

The court heard there had been three submarines operating in the area at the time the vessel went down.

A Dutch submarine called the Dolfijn was said to be 12 nautical miles from the Bugaled Breizh and at the surface when it sent out its first distress call at 12.25pm.

A German submarine was 40 nautical miles distant and at the surface, while a British submarine was 100 nautical miles from the scene and operating at depth.

Francoise Jolivet, the sister of Yves Marie Gloaguen, said in a statement at the beginning of the inquest that she hoped it would ‘light a little red light in the heads of European submarine commanders so they take into account other boats when doing their exercises’.

The inquest, which is scheduled to last three weeks, continues.

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