pix show the ill-fated Breton trawler the Bugaled Breizh
by Mike Chappell
Ten years have now passed since the sinking of the Breton fishing boat ‘Bugaled Breizh’ (Children of Brittany) on 15 January, 2004.
The entire crew of five lost their lives.
Ten years of unanswered questions for the families of the Breton fishermen and the owner of the 103 ton trawler from Loctudy in Brittany all of whom remain uncompensated for their tragic losses.
The vessel was well known in Newlyn where she was a frequent visitor.
What exactly happened at 12.25 hours some 26 kilometres south west of Lizard Point, Cornwall on that fateful day remains unresolved.
Weather conditions were good and a sudden and brief radio message made from the vessel informed that it was sinking quickly.
After these words, ‘come quickly. We are sinking’, no further information was transmitted such as exact co ordinates and no on board lifeboat ever launched.
Air Sea Rescue helicopters were supported by vessels including lifeboats from Penlee and the Lizard as well a Dutch submarine.
The lifeless bodies of skipper Yves Gloaguen, aged 45 years from Finisterre and Pascal le Floch, aged 49 years from Morbihan were soon recovered.
The French authorities in Quimper immediately commenced investigations.
Informally, several explanations were preferred for the sinking, amongst them a fishing accident, collision with some other object – a rock, other vessel or wreck, even a sandbank and a more sinister explanation, that the loss had been caused by a submarine.
A NATO exercise was occurring in the area involving submarines from Holland, Britain, France and that of another unknown country.
On 10th July, 2004, the Bugaled Breizh was raised from the sea bed and a third body recovered, that of Patrick Gloaguen aged 35 years, from western Finisterre.
No damage was found on the vessel other than to the fish tanks which had been compressed due to water pressure.
Eric Guillamet aged 42 years and Georges Le Metayer aged 50 years also from western Finisterre remain missing presumed lost.
During November, 2006, the French Marine Accident Investigation Office published its report stating that the proposition of net entanglement with a submarine was extremely unlikely and that it was more likely that the nets had become caught on a sand bank.
This caused outrage amongst the fishing community particularly bearing in mind that an expert witness declared that a nuclear submarine when entangled with trawler nets could pull down a vessel of up to 250 tonnes in 80 seconds.
It was felt that the French authorities were trying to massage the truth in order to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Suspicion fell upon several British nuclear submarines even though their cover stories appeared good.
Finally, a French Judicial enquiry reported at the end of July, 2008 that is was extremely likely that the Bugaled Breizh has indeed been lost as a result of an accident with a submarine which pulled the vessel to its doom by its nets.
But, due to the fact that there had been several submarines in the area at the time including one unidentified one, no individual country’s navy could be implicated and therefore no claim for compensation lodged.
Since 1970, the Celtic League has monitored and recorded possible accidents between fishing vessels and submarines and has estimated that no less than 20 boats have been lost together with the lives of over 150 fishermen.