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1974: No hope of survivors from missing Gaul trawler

The air and sea search for a British trawler missing in the Arctic Ocean has been called off.

Nothing has been heard from the Gaul and its 36-man crew since it vanished in a force ten gale 70 miles (112km) north of Norway a week ago.

Her last reported position to owners British United Trawlers (BUT) was on 7 February when she was fishing in the Barents sea.

The president of the British Trawler Federation, WA Suddaby has described the ship's disappearance as "the worst ever single trawler tragedy".

But he urged the families to remain optimistic and to bear in mind that the Gaul was built to the highest standards.

The ships owners are baffled by the disappearance of the 18-month-old ship. It did not issue any mayday signal and was fitted with the latest technology to deal with harsh conditions in the Arctic, including modern radio equipment and a dual-power system.

The Gaul was even nicknamed "the Unsinkable" when it set sail from Hull on 22 January.

Mystery

Derek Oswald, Director of BUT, said: "The Gaul is a first-class vessel, designed and built to fish in these northern latitudes and we are unable to envisage how this vessel can have disappeared without some communication being transferred."

Fears that the ship was lost were heightened by BUT's decision to issue the crew's list yesterday.

Names are not usually released unless there is virtually no hope of finding survivors.

British and Norwegian vessels, naval ships, helicopters and RAF aircraft have searched for the last six days in bleak weather conditions for any sign of the vessel.

Snow storms, high winds, low clouds and poor visibility hampered the hunt for the ship.

There was a glimmer of hope yesterday when an RAF Nimrod plane spotted an orange marker buoy.

On closer inspection, the HMS Hermes found that it did not come from the missing trawler.

Officers finally decided to halt the operations today after almost a week of searching.

Twenty-six of the ship's crew are from Hull, including the youngest a 17-year-old assistant cook.

Prayers for the missing men were said at the Fisherman's Mission near Hull's fish dock yesterday.

In Context
It is believed the Gaul sank on 8 February 1974.

An official report later that year concluded the ship had been swamped by heavy seas.

Over the past 30 years a series of investigations have revealed two alternative theories on the Gaul's fate.

Some believe the trawler was captured by the Soviets because it had spies on board. In 2004 rumours emerged that a British submarine became entangled in the vessel's nets and dragged it underwater.

Successive governments have denied that the trawler was involved in espionage.

There was a government admission in 1974 that naval commanders and trawler skippers did liaise during the Cold War and in the early 1970s, but that this had stopped by the time the Gaul went missing.

In 1997 an expedition funded by Norwegian and British television companies found the wreck of the Gaul.

Two years later, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ordered the 1974 inquiry to be re-opened.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch conducted a detailed survey of the wreckage.

In 2002 remains were found of four men and raised from the wreck. DNA was matched to crew members James Wales, Maurice Spurgeon, Stanley Collier and Clifford Briggs.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, re-opened the formal investigation on 13 January 2004 before the Wreck Commissioner, Mr Justice David Steel.

In December 2004 the inquiry ruled out theories the trawler was deliberately sunk by Russians or pulled down by a submarine and concluded water had flooded the hold in stormy weather.


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