Page last updated at 20:52 GMT, Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Solway Harvester tragedy

Solway Harvester
The Solway Harvester capsized in poor weather

Seven crewmen lost their lives on 11 January 2000 when their vessel - the scallop dredger Solway Harvester - sank off the Isle of Man.

On board were Skipper Andrew Mills (known as Craig), 29, his brother Robin Mills, 33, their cousin David Mills, 17, Martin Milligan, 26, John Murphy, 22, David Lyons, 18, and Wesley Jolly, 17.

The men were all from the Isle of Whithorn area of Dumfries and Galloway.

In 2005, there was a manslaughter trial of the dredger's owner Richard Gidney. He collapsed after the judge ruled there was no case to answer.

Composite image of victims of Solway Harvester
(Top left to right) Robin Mills, David Mills, John Doyle Murphy. (Bottom left to right) Andrew "Craig" Mills, Martin Milligan (pictured with his fiancee), Wesley Jolly, David Lyons


The Solway Harvester was an automated scallop dredger. This fairly unusual type of vessel has sections along the sides which rotate out and upwards to deposit the catch on the deck.


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Launched in 1992, she was 21m (70ft) long and had accommodation for eight on board, plus a workshop, ice machine and storage.

But a Marine Accident Investigation Branch report on the sinking in 2003 found that there were maintenance issues - especially a flood alarm that did not work and a missing hatch cover.


The dredger sailed from Kirkcudbright in the early hours of 10 January 2000 and headed to the queen scallop grounds of the Irish Sea.

By the next morning, the crew had filled 150 bags of scallops. They hauled gear that afternoon, ready for home.

But the weather worsened and skipper Craig Mills headed for shelter at Ramsey Bay.

Nothing more was heard from the vessel until a satellite picked up an emergency position radio beacon. A rescue mission was scrambled but it was called off on 12 January after two unopened liferafts were found.

The wreck of the Solway Harvester was found on 15 January lying on her starboard side in 35m (115ft) of water. The bodies of all seven crew were on board.

map of isle of man


According to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, the vessel capsized because her fish room flooded, making her unstable.

Water drained unnoticed into the fish room through scuttles (hatches) on the deck which did not have their covers on. The pump was blocked, and an alarm which warns when the bilges (the lowest inner parts of the ship's hull) are filling with water was broken. So the skipper had no warning the room was flooding.

In the rough sea the unstable Solway Harvester rolled sideways to 30-40 degrees. This meant more water poured in through the open scuttle; tonnes of fish and gear shifted to starboard and water became trapped on the main deck.

Although her buoyancy would have allowed her to roll back to 20-25 degrees she never regained her stability and she gradually rolled onto her side.

It was then just a matter of time before she sank.

This animated illustration gives you an idea of what happened. The layout and sequence of events are representative.

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