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Submarine Statistics

Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many suspected incidents have been investigated by his Department over the past 12 months of submarines being involved either in collisions with other vessels or fouling fishing nets within United Kingdom territorial waters.

In the last 12 months, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport have investigated two losses of fishing vessels as a result of fouling their gear where it was initially alleged that submarines might have been responsible. Both investigations concluded that submarines were not involved.

Will the Minister confirm that those two cases concerned the Mhari L, involving the loss of five lives earlier this year, and the South Stack from Holyhead, which was lost last summer with the loss of three lives? Will he further confirm that the Government have received strong representations from the Irish Government about dangers arising from submarines in the Irish sea? Will the Government now give a stronger warning to fishermen about the movement of submarines, to try to minimise the dangers arising from such movements?

The two incidents in the last 12 months to which I was referring involved the Mhari L, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Channel Avenger, which sank off Portland Bill in December 1984. As he will be aware, there have been a number of incidents in the last 10 years in which there has been some involvement of submarines with various fishing vessels. We keep our procedures carefully under review and, as far as practicable, every possible precaution is taken to avoid such incidents taking place, and I am glad to say that there have been no such incidents in the last 12 months.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that submarines involved in deterrent and other activities have been entering and leaving the Clyde area for the last two decades? During that time there have been a number of allegations. In a recent one, concerning the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), it was alleged that a fishing vessel had been sunk after being involved with a nuclear submarine. That turned out to be untrue, with positive evidence to show that the ship had fouled something underwater and had had nothing to do with a submarine.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There have been a number of incidents where the initial allegation has been that a fishing vessel has fouled a submarine. Subsequent investigations have shown that no submarine has been involved.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on almost every occasion when an allegation has been made it has been met with a denial? It was denied that a submarine was involved when the Irish trawler was sunk, until it was proved conclusively that a submarine had been involved. Should not warnings be given to fishing vessels of the dangers that arise, especially in the Irish sea, from the activities of submarines?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that certain areas are marked on maritime maps as being those of naval activity, in some instances submarine activity. I think he will understand that, given the sensitivity of submarine operations, it would be irresponsible of us to give public acknowledgements of submarine routes and deployments.