A senior British Royal Navy official denied on Tuesday that one of its submarines was responsible for the sinking of a French fishing trawler that sank off the English coast nearly 18 years ago.
The families of the five crewmembers killed in the Bugalled Breeze in 2004 are hoping that a coroner’s investigation in London will confirm their view that the boat was towed down by the British sub HMS Turbulent.
But Commander Daniel Simmonds, the head of submarine operations for the Royal Navy, told a hearing in London that the ship was at Devonport Dock in Plymouth, south-west England, at the time of the tragedy.
The nuclear attack submarine was to take part in NATO exercises in the region from January 16, 2004 – the day after the tragedy.
Simmonds said it was unable to do so because of damage, maintaining that it was “unthinkable” that the logs would be falsified.
The effects of such a move would be “significant” and “erode trust” among allies, he told a judge at the High Court in London.
He also said that it was “unthinkable” that a submarine affiliated to any other country participating in the exercise could be in the area without indicating its presence.
From the outset, families have said they believe the Breton trawler sank after a submarine caught hold of its net and dragged it down.
According to Simmonds, the British naval exercise was scheduled for the day of the tragedy, but without submarines.
He told the court that only three NATO submarines were at sea when the Bugaled Breeze sank; German U22, Dutch Dolfijn and British Torbay.
He said it was impossible that any of them could be within five nautical miles of the trawler.
When questioned on Monday, the Dutch Navy denied any involvement of the Dolphijn submarine, saying it was on the surface at the time of the accident.
A lengthy legal process in France ended in 2016, with no decision on whether the submarine caused the tragedy or if it was a fishing accident.
A British court is due to hear from former Turbulent commander Andrew Coles later on Tuesday.
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