An investigation into the deaths of five French crew members who died when their fishing trawler suddenly sank in 2004 has started in the UK.
The trial is set to examine how the Bugaled Breizh was able to sink in less than a minute, and examines the possibility that the incident was linked to nearby submarines carrying out exercises.
The British Ministry of Defense has denied any involvement of submarines.
The boat sank on January 15, 2004, 23 km off the coast of the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall.
The day after the sinking, only the bodies of Pascal Le Floch and Yves Gloaguen were found. They were brought back to Cornwall, and under English law that means an investigation into the incident must be held.
The hearing began on October 4 and is expected to last three weeks.
What happened to the Bugaled Breizh?
The French trawler had left the port of Loctudy (Finistère) on January 7 with five men on board for a 15-day fishing trip off Cornouaille.
On January 15, the Bugaled Breizh sent a distress message to Eridan, another trawler who left the Breton port the same day.
The message said “we’re capsizing, come quickly”, reports Le Figaro.
When the Eridan’s skipper, Serge Cossec, tries to establish radio contact with the Bugaled Breizh a few minutes later, there are only crackles.
By the time the Eridan arrived at the scene with a British helicopter, it was already too late.
Only the bodies of Mr. Le Floch and Mr. Gloaguen were found at the time.
A few months after the incident, the boat was refloated and the body of Patrick Gloaguen was found. The bodies of the two other crew members, Georges Lemétayer and Eric Guillamet, have never been found.
How did it sink?
Two theories about how the boat sank have been put forward: a fishing accident or an accident involving a submarine.
There were three submarines – Dutch, German and British – operating within 100 nautical miles of the ship when it sank, the British investigation learned.
NATO submarine exercises have also taken place in the region.
Case closed in France
In May 2014, the French justice concluded that neither of the two hypotheses could be accepted.
The case was dismissed and confirmed by the Rennes Court of Appeal a year later. The Court of Cassation validated this judgment in 2016 and the case has since been closed in France.
The French Sea Accident Investigation Bureau (BEAmer) declared in 2008 that a fishing accident was the most likely cause of the sinking of the boat.
He said the trawl could have caught on the bottom [of the sea], which caused the vessel to tip over to port, facing heavy seas while the swell was heavy. The boat would then have been unbalanced due to the tension on the cable and would have sunk.
The underwater theory
The other hypothesis, that supported by the family of the victims, is an accident with a submarine.
The theory is that a nearby submarine could have hooked up the port cable of the trawl, dragging it to the bottom of the sea in less than a minute.
The lawyer for the families of the victims, Gaspard de Monclin, considered that this trial in London is an opportunity to question President Emmanuel Macron.
He specified that the French head of state is the only one to have “the power to make public the NATO documents relating to this exercise, which are currently covered by defense secrecy, in order to say which submarine is was near the Bugaled Breizh, Le Monde reported.
He said that without the help of the French state, “British justice risks reaching the same conclusion as the French system”, namely that the cause of the accident is not conclusive.
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