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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Cold War
The day an Irish fishing boat was sunk by a British submarine
Newly released documents show the Government had ‘no intention’ to get involved in the crew’s case against the UK.

David Connolly / Vimeo

IN APRIL 1982 a Clogherhead fishing boat, the Sheralga, was trawling for prawns in the Irish Sea.

Raymond McEvoy was skippering the 70ft vessel about 30 miles off the Dublin coast when near disaster struck.

Other vessels in the area reported seeing the boat suddenly lurching back before being dragged backwards at high-speed, an estimated 10 knots. A significant pace with the Sheralga’s engines powering in the opposite direction.

The five man crew at first didn’t know what was happening but the seriousness of the situation soon became apparent when the boat started to go under.

The Sheralga was dragged for about two miles before it sunk and all five crew leapt overboard. They were rescued by number of other trawlers with Paul Connolly, captain of the main rescue vessel The Supreme, describing what happened.

“Next thing I seen him go full astern, he was flying astern about 6, 7, 10 knots astern. Then the boat listed over on her side.”

PastedImage-90569 Vimeo / David Connolly One of the boat's crewmen interviewed after being brought to shore. Vimeo / David Connolly / David Connolly

The crew men were taken to shore at Clogherhead by The Supreme and were in no doubt that they’d been sunk by a submarine which had left the scene rather than assist the rescue.

“She was dragged over, definitely, by a submarine, definitely,” said crewman Noel Kirwan in the hours after the sinking. “What was going to pull her back, 600 horsepower, something had to pull her back.”

At first, Britain denied any involvement in what happened but a number of weeks later admitted that the sinking had been caused by one of their subs.

The incident happened at the height of the Falklands War and it later transpired that the the Sheralga’s nets had been caught by HMS Porpoise which was looking for Soviet submarine activity in the Irish Sea.

PastedImage-67652 Vimeo / David Connolly The harbour at Clogherhead in 1982 where the Shelga's crew were taken. Vimeo / David Connolly / David Connolly

‘No intention’  

The sinking caused a major diplomatic incident between Ireland and the UK with demands that submarine activity be stopped in the Irish Sea.

The crewmen wanted compensation, both for the loss of the boat and their livelihoods and also for what they saw as the risk to their lives. The Irish Government meanwhile pushed for Irish fishing grounds to be made submarine-free.

But a confidential Government document published under the 30-year rule demonstrates that there was no Government appetite to “become party to the dispute” between the men and the United Kingdom.

The March 1984 briefing note for Minster for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry ahead of a UK visit contained the following extract:

We have no intention of acting as a party to the dispute and we have involved ourselves only to the extent of keeping ourselves informed of the views of both sides.

“We strongly hope that a court case may be avoided and that the matter may yet be settled by mutual agreement of loss adjusters,” it adds.

IMG_0871 National Archive / Briefing note for Foreign Affairs Minister. National Archive / /

In the end, the men did go the legal route and four years later the crew received compensation in a Belfast court according to submarine blog

The blog added that the compensation as Raymond McAvoy puts it “didn’t even match half of what he paid for the boat”.

The 1984 Government documents also outline how the Sheralga was far from the last of the “allegations of submarine interference with fishing vessels”.

The memo outlines to the Foreign Minster that he may wish to mention:

  • “The increase in alleged submarine incidents in the Irish Sea. In particular the case of the trawler Oriel which had to cut nets when hauled astern of Clogherhead on 8 March.
  • That we trust that the relevant British authorities remain fully concious of the dangers of submarine activity in prime fishing ground in the Irish Sea and have taken appropriate measures to avoid Sheralga-like incidents.”

Read: Near Misses: ‘The US were lucky to get out of the Cold War without a nuclear detonation’ >

Read: First Irish TV, Titanic, a famous ceiling: the big anniversaries of 2012 >

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