The Royal Navy nuclear submarine Turbulent has been formally cleared of any involvement in the mystery sinking of a Breton trawler and the deaths of its five crew off the Lizard in Cornwall.
Nine years after the five fishermen died in the Bugaled Breizh tragedy, French authorities have finally ruled out the possibility that the British submarine was responsible.
Two expert reports have been published that dismiss a theory that HMS Turbulent, or any other submarine, could have been caught up in the trawler’s cables and dragged it down.
Despite questions in the House of Commons and assurances by the Ministry of Defence that the submarine was docked at Plymouth on the day the Bugaled Breizh sank, a lawyer for French families of the victims called for its captain Commander Andy Coles to be placed under investigation for manslaughter.
Cdr Coles has repeatedly denied that his submarine was responsible for snagging the Bugaled’s trawl cables and dragging her below the waves in less than a minute.
A lawyer for the families had accused him and the Royal Navy of lying and claimed one mystery witness heard a “confession” by Cdr Coles and two others, neither of whom were ever named, had heard a radio message from the Turbulent saying she had suffered damage following a collision at the time of the accident and was returning to port.
A French journalist attempted to interview Commander Coles at his home in Devon last month. Commander Coles said he was unavailable but the journalist reported that the Commander’s wife had spoken to him and denied that her husband had anything to do with the sinking of the French trawler.
Now a report by a submarine specialist handed to judges investigating the accident has confirmed that HMS Turbulent was nowhere near the Bugaled Breizh on January 15, 2004 when other submarines from Britain and other Nato countries were taking part in war games in the area where the trawler was sunk.
“On the basis of technical documents relating to the position of naval vessels at the time of the sinking, the specialist considers that the submarine accused of involvement was definitely in port,” said Nantes prosecutor Brigitte Lamy in a statement.
A second separate report by experts commissioned by the judges casts doubt on the theory that the Bugaled fell victim to a submarine at all.
Traces of titanium found on salvaged trawl cables of the trawler “are not significative of the involvement of a submarine” as “apart from two Russian submarines built in the sixties the protective coating of submarines is exempt of any kind of titanium”, their report said.
The experts point out that paint containing titanium in dioxide form is widely used as protective coating for hulls of fishing vessels and submerged port equipment and suggest the titanium found on the trawl cables was caused by the Bugaled having come into contact with other fishing gear.
Families of the five lost fishermen who live in western Brittany close to the Bugaled Breizh’s home port of Loctudy have always believed that a submarine was responsible for the accident.
A year after the tragedy, a judge accepted an initial report by marine experts who considered that because the Bugaled Breizh sank so rapidly, the culprit could only have been a nuclear submarine moving at high speed below the waves.