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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Merchant navy demo over war grave
Rosemary Fogg and Valerie Ledgard
This summer the sisters visited the spot where their father died
Merchant seamen have been demonstrating outside the High Court in an attempt to get a ship torpedoed in World War II recognised as an official war grave.

The SS Storaa sank 10 miles off Hastings, East Sussex, in November 1943, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) ruled it was not a war grave.

Worthing sisters Rosemary Fogg, 73, and Valerie Ledgard, 65, are fighting the ruling to protect their father's grave.

A two-day judicial review began in London on Wednesday.

Military service

In the UK, 16 ship wrecks and all underwater military aircraft are designated war graves, which under the Military Remains Act 1986 imposes restrictions on their exploration and salvage.

Speaking outside court, Valerie Ledgard said: "I hope we get the review and the MoD comes back with the right answers.

"Anybody who has lost their lives in war deserves to be remembered and remembered properly and the families also deserve that as well."

The sisters' father, James Varndell, was one of 21 men who died on the ship, which was carrying steel to a weapons factory in Cardiff.

They say the MoD's decision, that the ship was not in military service and so could not be designated a war grave, was wrong.

Aqua club

The campaigners argue that the ship was armed, sailing in convoy and had already beaten one German attack before it was hit.

Divers on the wreck say caterpillar tracks have been found that must have come from military vehicles.

But John Short from Hastings Sub Aqua Association, who was sold the wreck for 150 in 1985, says the MoD has no right to turn it into a war grave because he now has legal ownership.

The merchant navy veterans hope the case will lead to a landmark ruling which will protect the graves of thousands of other sailors who died during World War II.

Many arrived at court with Red Ensigns - the flag of the British merchant fleet, and banners saying "White Ensign (Royal Navy) dedicated, Red Ensign forgotten".

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26 Oct 05 |  Southern Counties
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15 Aug 05 |  Southern Counties
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23 Jun 05 |  Southern Counties
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07 Apr 05 |  Southern Counties

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