Pescado fishing boat that sank off Cornwall ‘was hit by submarine for hiding’
Thirty years ago, a Plymouth registered beam trawler left port on what was supposed to be a routine fishing trip.
After having heard nothing from the Pescado since its departure on February 25, 1991, a search for the vessel began on March 5.
The wreck of the Pescado was eventually found 13 miles off Dodman Point on the south coast of Cornwall.
None of the ship’s six crew survived everything that brought the ship down, and the decision of the cause of the ship’s sinking became a long, messy point of debate for years.
The official line remains from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) in 1998: the boat tipped over, flooded and sank due to inexperienced crew and faulty equipment.
But the ship’s owner Alan Ayres, who died on June 22, 2020 at the age of 81, had insisted for decades that a collision with a British Navy submarine had sunk it – and that there had been a cover-up.
“I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years trying to find out exactly what happened,” he said in 2017.
“I never stopped trying. It’s the only thing that kept me sane.
According to a Guardian article published the following year, Mr Ayres broke down in tears when it was confirmed that a floating piece of the ship’s wheelhouse was from the Pescado – meaning his ship (and crew) were both gone.
The six dead, Sean Kelly, Jo-Ann Thomas, Neil Curry, Adrian Flynn, Peter Birley and Steven Hardy – came from across the country, from Plymouth to Lincoln – and ranged from 17 (in Kelly’s case) to 34- Birley , a year.
The same article stated that Mr Ayres did not suspect foul play at first, but after the official line that his vessel was not seaworthy came out – he began to fight back.
Mr. Ayres’ testimony boils down to a few key points, which he told the world about at a press conference in May 1991.
Its first claim stems from black marks found on the ship’s hull by divers, when it was discovered 240 feet below sea level.
Divers took samples of the marks, with Mr Ayres saying at the time that experts found it to be a painting “similar” to British submarines.
The second piece of evidence Mr. Ayres maintained until his death was the Defense Ministry’s refusal to release documents about warships in the region at the time.
Moreover, the lack of an investigation into the deaths of six men, according to Mr Ayres, means that the case can never be considered completely closed.
In response to his allegations, Mr. Ayres’ testimony was immediately reviewed by the Department of Defense.
Despite claims by the ship’s captain that there was a minehunting exercise in the area at the time, the Defense Ministry stood firm, saying there was no connection.
The MAIB said the 70-foot vessel’s nets were caught on the seabed and her “inexperienced” crew and faulty safety equipment caused the tragedy.
His report said the radio and safety flares were not working and his lifeboat was useless because it had been “strapped” to the ship’s railings.
Instead of an investigation, there was a manslaughter trial with Mr. Ayres and the ship’s agent Joseph O’Connor as defendants.
Mr Ayres avoided conviction after charges against him were dropped in 1996, but Mr O’Connor was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison, which he successfully overturned on appeal .
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Mr O’Connor was accused of skimping on the refit of the ship and hiring an inexperienced crew – thus causing the tragedy.
But Mr Ayres was not happy with this and spent years trying to prove the military was at fault and calling for an investigation into the deaths.
However, despite its evidence – that the Coast Guard were not made aware of the missing ship, the alleged military cover and the black substance found on the wreckage – nothing can be proven unless it can be ascertained. present before a judge.
Without an investigation into the deaths of the crew, however, this is nearly impossible.
“I was denied an investigation into the sinking of the Pescado,” Alan Ayres told Fishing News in 2016.
“I hope that a good result of the Bugaled Briezh investigation will help me get a judicial review to reopen the case and get a proper investigation.
Mr Ayres was referring to another similar case in which a French trawler sank 14 miles off the coast of the Lizard in 2004.
Five men died in the fall of the Bugaled Briezh, triggering an investigation 14 years later.
The family, like Mr Ayres, claimed that a submarine shot down the boat on the grounds that the boat had no other reason to sink – as well as the testimony of French fisherman Serge Cossec, who went to the rescue of the ship.
Mr. Cossec, upon arriving at the wreckage after responding to a distress call from the captain of the Bugaled, saw a “patch” of diesel and oil beside the vessel’s last known location.
He also testified that he saw a submarine in the area afterwards.
“There was a submarine on the surface. I did not see any identifying mark. I tried to approach it twice without success.
“He disappeared and I don’t know if he was trying to escape or if he was following specific search directions,” he said.
Speaking ahead of the Bugaled’s inquest, Mr Ayres said: “Many witnesses will be called and I hope we receive an appropriate cry from Coroner Dr Emily Carlyon. Our ultimate hope is that we can prove to a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they were unlawfully killed, rather than “accidental death” – this will be an important case.
Cornwall Acting Senior Coroner Andrew Cox said in November 2019: “There are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding this case and I want to work hard to dispel as much as possible.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Ayres and the families of the Bugaled crew, the investigation has been postponed until 2019 – to move forward in 2020. At the time of writing, the investigation is not complete .
And, with that, the case has been closed for the time being – and has yet to be reviewed.
“I have proof that Pescado was sunk by a submarine,” Ayres said when speaking to Fishing News.
“But you have to be in court to present this evidence. It was unbelievable that the coroner decided there shouldn’t be an investigation.
“25 years ago, time flies and I’m 77 now, but I’ll never give up on that. I’m the son of a Yorkshire miner, so it must be that Yorkshire courage that keeps me going. I have my own lawyers and I will seek judicial review.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the lives of fishermen – they have enough trouble anyway without having to worry about being sunk by submarines.”
Sadly, Mr Ayres’ death last year means he never knew for sure what happened.
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