A Coroner’s Inquest has opened in London for two crew members onboard a French fishing boat, Bugaled Breizh lost off the Cornish coast in 2007. Photo: AFP
A Coroner’s Inquest has opened in London for two crew members onboard a French fishing vessel that mysteriously sank off the southwest coast of England 17 years ago.
The 24-metre Bugaled Breizh (Child of Brittany) sank on 15 January 2004 with the loss of five-crew members off the Lizard Peninsula. Two bodies were taken from the sea by the HM Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter to Cornwall and another to France but two of the crew were never recovered.
Previous hearings relating to the deaths of Pascal Le Floch and Yves Gloaguen have been in Truro, as their bodies were returned to Cornwall.
“Come quickly, I’m sinking,” were the last words the skipper said on his radio, in a bid to attract the help of another fishing boat which was located a few minutes away.
Although a cause of the tragedy has never been legally determined, two main theories exist.
One points to a fishing accident, with the boat being pulled down by its nets which got caught on something, or that of a submarine which got caught up in the boat’s cables and dragged the boat under.
Sank in ’37 seconds’
Dominique Launay, President of the Association SOS Bugaled Breizh says that only the force of something like a submarine could have caused the boat to sink so quickly.
“The vessel sank in 37 seconds, so it would need a considerable force to pull down a boat 24 metres long,” he recalls when an appeals court heard the case in 2015.
Brittany police said that the sinking happened a day before NATO military exercises officially began in the area.
But the British Ministry of Defence denies claims a Royal Navy submarine HMS Turbulent was involved, maintaining that the submarine was docked at Plymouth on the day of the accident.
Commander Andrew Coles, who was in charge of the submarine at the time will be heard during the inquest on 12 October.
An appeals court in France undertook an investigation to try to identify what US submarines were in the vicinity at the time, however this was overturned in 2014.
France’s top judicial court, the Court of Cassation, said in 2016 there was no evidence to support the submarine claim, nor that it was a fishing accident.
However, doubts remain concerning two other submarines which may have been operating at the time of the sinking.
Declassified American military documents made available after the French court decision revealed that the USS Rickover was present in the English Channel at the time, on an anti-terror mission.
And the Dutch submarine Dolphin was also reportedly present in the region at the time, but the Dutch government have refused to confirm this information.
The British inquest which opens on yesterday, at the Old Bailey in London, is not a trial designed to assign blame, rather to elucidate a mystery into the exact cause of death of the fishermen. It will involve a judge, the British Ministry of Defence, the Coast Guard and families of the victims.
In March this year, Judge Nigel Lickley QC, acting as coroner, said the “long-delayed” inquest would be a “full, fair and rigorous investigation”.
He added he was “conscious the families want it brought to a conclusion”.
The French court of Cassation has until next year to reopen the case if further evidence can be established.