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2000: Seven missing in Irish Sea

Seven young fishermen are feared drowned off the Scottish coast after the disappearance of their scallop dredger in force nine gales.

The Solway Harvester's last contact was with its sister boat, Tobrach-n, at 1750 local time. The crew said they were heading for shelter at Ramsay in the Isle of Man.

Coastguards described the weather as changing from rough with force five or six westerly winds to "horrendous".

The missing fishermen are: Skipper Craig Mills, 29, his brother Robin, 33, and their cousin David, David Lions, 17, John Murphy, 22, Wesley Jolly, 17 and Martin Milligan, 26.

Conditions deteriorating

Six of them are from the close-knit fishing village of Whithorn. Martin Milligan is from a neighbouring village in the Wigtown Bay area of the Solway Firth.

When coastguards at Clyde received the boat's last signal, 11 miles south east of the Isle of Man, they alerted their colleagues in Liverpool and a rescue operation began.

A mayday relay alerted lifeboats from Workington, Cumbria and Douglas, Ramsay and Port St Mary on the Isle of Man. Efforts are being co-ordinated by coastguards at Crosby.

Rescue helicopters have flown over from RNAS Prestwick, in Ayrshire and RAF Valley in north Wales.

They are being assisted by the Irish Air Corps helicopter, with its heat-seeking capabilities, and a fixed wing plane from the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

As conditions continue to deteriorate larger vessels have joined the search.

The Royal Fleet auxiliary vessel, Bayleaf, has been joined by The Ben Mychree Isle of Man ferry with 98 passengers and 38 crew.

Immediate causes seem to be the weather and debris, but people are already asking how such a modern, well-equipped boat could disappear so quickly.

Only one of the regular crew was not on board owing to illness.

Rescue operations will continue into the night.

In Context
By dawn the following day both liferafts had been found unopened.

That afternoon a boat using sonar equipment found the wreck lying in about 40ft of water, 11 miles to the south east of the Isle of Man.

Coastguards scaled down their search and the men were presumed dead as survival time in the water was less than an hour.

The bodies were recovered by divers three weeks later and hundreds attended their funerals.

Bad weather prevented the boat from being salvaged until June.

The Marine Accident Report revealed "several safety shortcomings".

The Harvester's owners subsequently appeared in court over the seaworthiness of their boats.

It also emerged that a sister vessel, the Solway Ranger, might have been used to dredge over the wreck to disguise the causes of the accident.

This was the biggest UK fishing tragedy since the Gaul sank in 1974 with the loss of 36 crew members.


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