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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 14:37 GMT
Sunken Gaul 'was not a spy boat'
The Gaul
The Gaul sunk in heavy seas in 1974 with 36 men aboard
A Secret Intelligence Service officer has told an inquiry there is no evidence to suggest the ill-fated Gaul trawler was involved in spying.

The MI6 officer, who studied SIS files to see if the Gaul carried out spying missions in the 1970s, said it had only been involved in fishing.

The Hull-based Gaul went down in 1974 in the Barents Sea off Norway with the loss of all 36 men on board.

For decades there has been speculation the ship was sunk or seized by Russia.

The MI6 officer gave evidence by audio-link to the inquiry being held in Hull from another room and was referred to only as witness EB.

Covert missions

The inquiry has heard the Ministry of Defence ran a scheme in the 1960s in which trawler skippers took photographs of Soviet warships and passed the information back to intelligence chiefs in the UK.

Gaul wheelhouse
An underwater camera reveals the wheelhouse of the sunken Gaul
Two trawlers are also said to have been used in covert and unsuccessful operations to recover lost missiles in the Barents Sea in 1972 and 1973.

But the MI6 officer said: "There is nothing in the SIS records to suggest the Gaul was used for any purpose other than fishing."

He also stated no intelligence officer was present on the Gaul when she made her last fateful voyage in 1974 and none of her crew had been recruited for covert operations on previous missions.

He also revealed there was no evidence to suggest the ship had collided with a Russian submarine.

The inquiry has heard for more than 30 years there has been speculation on the possible cause of the Gaul's sinking and a belief that the ship had been seized by the Soviet Union and the crew imprisoned, or that the vessel had been torpedoed or accidentally sunk by a Russian submarine.

Most of the men who died on the Gaul were from Hull, but six were from North Shields, Tyne and Wear, and one was from Nelson, Lancashire.

The reopened inquiry was ordered by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 1999, after the wreck of the Gaul was found on the seabed and surveyed.

The first 1974 inquiry into the sinking concluded that the ship was overwhelmed by mountainous seas.

The BBC's Danny Savage
"No distress call was ever made"

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12 Sep 03  |  Humber

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