A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch has revealed that the lives of the crew of the Karen were put "at risk" because a Royal Navy submarine command team misidentified the trawler.

13 October 2016

A report into a collision between the trawler, Karen, and a Royal Navy submarine has revealed that the submarine’s command team “did not follow the standard procedures for fishing vessel avoidance.”

The unidentified dived Royal Navy submarine snagged the nets of the Karen at 16.05 on 15 April, 2015, causing the trawler to be dragged backwards at around 7 knots for 30 seconds.

The Karen’s crew managed to release net equipment but the accident caused it to heel heavily to port and its stern was submerged.

It was only when the port warp failed that the trawler was released.

The submarine’s command team was unaware of the collision until about three hours later.

The incident happened around 15 miles south-east of the busy fishing port of Ardglass, Northern Ireland.

It left “significant damage” to the Karen, although none of the trawler’s four crew were injured.

According to the report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), the collision occurred because the submarine’s command team identified the Karen as a merchant vessel.

“The submarine’s command team had assessed that the majority of shipping contacts in the area were merchant vessels. However, most were actually trawlers; this was predictable and should have been identified as a significant risk to the safety of the submarine and other vessels when preparing the submarine’s passage plan,” noted the MAIB.

“Had the submarine’s command team appreciated the high density of fishing vessels and then followed Royal Navy guidance on fishing vessel avoidance, the accident would have been avoided.”

Investigators concluded that had the port warp not failed, the Karen “would have foundered, denying the crew sufficient time to initiate a controlled abandonment” and placing their lives “in immediate danger”.

The MAIB also found that although evidence of the collision was detected on board the submarine, “the unusual noise reported by the sonar chief petty officer was dismissed as insignificant, and post-deployment analysis showed that the collision had been detected by sonar but not observed on board.”

It said the rapid nature of such accidents means that often, the “consequences of a snagging for a fishing vessel are likely to be catastrophic.”

“In such circumstances, it is of paramount importance that the submarine is able to recognise what has happened in order to render immediate assistance,” it noted.

The MAIB said its investigation was conducted “without the full co-operation of the Royal Navy.”

“The involvement of a submarine was not revealed until nearly 5 months after the accident and it took 10 months for the Royal Navy to submit evidence to the investigation team,” stated investigators.

These delays “impeded the progress” of the independent investigation, and the evidence submitted was “insufficient to determine all the causal factors.”

The MAIB report recommends that the Royal Navy reviews procedures and training.

Responding to the report, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: “We have expressed our regret and remain sorry for the incident and delay in confirming our involvement.”

“We’ve revised our procedures to reduce the risk that such an incident could happen again. We’re reviewing the report’s recommendations and continue to work closely with the maritime community to maximise safety.”

The Royal Navy said it has “made known” its readiness to pay compensation and are in correspondence with the Karen’s owner, Paul Murphy.


19 April 2016

In the interim report, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) says the inquiry into the collision was delayed because the involvement of a Royal Navy submarine was not confirmed until 7 September 2015.

On April 15, 2015, crew members of the UK register trawler, Karen, were fishing off the Isle of Man when its gear was snagged by a Royal Navy submarine which was conducting a dived, southbound passage of the Irish Sea.

The report states the Karen’s crew all heard a loud noise and immediately realised something was wrong when the trawl warps suddenly tightened and the vessel started to be dragged backwards through the water.

The skipper immediately disengaged his propeller and instructed the crew to release the winch brakes.

Once the brakes were released, the trawl warps began to run out. The starboard trawl warp ran out rapidly, but the port warp became fouled on its drum and caused Karen to heel to port and ship water over the stern.

About 30 seconds later, the port warp parted and Karen was released.

Once freed from the submarine, Karen’s stern resurfaced and the floodwater on the
deck drained away. The skipper regained control of his vessel and headed back to its home port of Ardglass, Northern Ireland for repairs. The submarine continued with its dived passage.

The MAIB states the investigation into the causes and circumstances of the accident focused on a number of areas: why the submarine collided with the Karen’s fishing gear; the emergency response and the actions taken following the snagging, and the actions necessary to prevent recurrence.

It adds that a draft report of the investigation is nearing completion and will be distributed to key stakeholders for a 30-day consultation in due course.

20 April 2015

A fishing crew from County Down in Northern Ireland believe that a submarine is responsible for dragging their 60ft trawler backwards and almost capsizing her after snagging on their nets in the Irish Sea last week.

The group had been trawling for prawns near the Isle of Man when Karen nearly went over on Wednesday following the incident.

Crews on board quickly released the boat’s nets to prevent it from capsizing and despite averting a more serious situation, the incident is believed to have caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the boat.

Speaking to the BBC, skipper Paul Murphy said: “I knew straight away that a submarine had grabbed us. I was able to get the crew reacting very quickly to go up and release the brake on the winch, which would let our fishing gear go. Before we got it released the boat was near capsized.

“Obviously there’s concern for the rest of the fleet that’s out there, it can happen again, it could happen tomorrow and maybe not be so lucky.”

A team of investigators from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch were sent to Northern Ireland to gather information about the incident.

This is the second time in recent weeks that a submarine is believed to have dragged a trawler following an incident off the coast of the Outer Hebrides at the end of March.

The Ministry of Defence declined to make a statement on the incident, saying that they do not comment on submarine activity, however it has been reported that Nato naval exercises are currently being in held in the far north of the country off the West and East coast of Scotland.

Submarines from Holland, Norway, Turkey and Britain are believed to be taking part in the large bi-annual military event known as Exercise Joint Warrior.

Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation CEO Dick James has said a Russian submarine could have been behind the incident.

Speaking about the events last week, Mr James said: “There has been Russian activity. There have been allied exercises going on, the Russians have been taking an interest in it.

“The question mark now is what kind of submarine was it?

“Paul Murphy, the skipper, said that he sat for five to 10 minutes catching his breath to see if the submarine would surface.

“It was a submarine, it had to be, it could not have been anything else.”