Danger under the Irish Sea

Nuclear submarines regularly pass within five miles of Dublin port, sometimes sinking Irish trawlers and crashing into illegally dumped nuclear barrels in the Irish sea. Nobody is doing anything about it. Noel McCarthy reports.
The United States bases ten of its thirty one 'Lafayette' and 'Benjamin Franklin' submarines at Holy Loch, on the Clyde estuary of Western Scotland. These submarines form a unit called 'Subron 14'. Their peace time function is to patrol under the North East Atlantic. Their mission is to incinerate Soviet cities and military and industrial targets, in time of war.

To fulfill this role each of the subbmarines carry 16 Poseidon missiles with a capability to unleash the equivalent of ten thousand Hiroshimas. To gain access to the Atlantic the subs must pass counties Antrim and Donegal to the North and the east coast of Leinster and Munster to the South.

According to British Admiralty chart 1141, the southerly route can bring nuclear subs up to five miles off Dublin port. The priority of the Clyde based submarines is to remain undeetected by the Soviets, who deploy surrface intelligence vessels and 'Whiskey' class diesel subs in an attempt to 'shadow' the NATO submarines, It is against this background of superrthreat wargames that the trawler sinkings have occured.

Britain maintains a modest contribbution to global destruction at the Faslane naval base, Gare Loch on the Clyde estuary. The unit is called the 'Subron 10'. The unit consists of four 'Resolution' class submarines equipped with a choice of three 150 kiliton warrheads, or six 40 kiliton warheads, all delivered by means of the Polaris missile.

Security cover for the US and UK missile subs is provided by a force of twenty five Royal Navy 'Hunter Killer' submarines. The submarines are equipped with a towed sonar cable called TASS. (Towed Array Sound Surveillance System).

Experts claim that the cables which are dragged behind the submarines, can become ensnared in fishing nets, very often the submarine may not be aware it has snared a trawler. According to the British coastguard 'Three British trawlers have all dissappeared into the Irish Sea without reason'. 'Celerity' 1981, 'Zanto ' 1983, 'Exuberant' 1983.

The almost permanent presence of Soviet in telligence vessels off the county Antrim coast has prompted submarines from Holy Loch to travel southwards. This trend was first noticed by trawler men in 1981.

Another problem arising from the Holy Loch base sixty miles from the Antrim coast, is the environmental risk. According to the British Ministry of" defence 'radioactive effluent and waste water from the Holy Loch base are deposited in locations outside the twelve mile limit'. The dumping sites remain secret, the dumping has been 'carried out in the North channel of the Irish Sea since 1961' according to Duncan Campbell of the New Statesman magazine. There is no public record or official regulation of these dumping activities despite a ban on civil nuclear dumping.

Every Month the USS Alcor or the USS Betelgeuse arrive at Holy Loch from their South Carolina base, Charleston, USA. Contained in the holds of the transport vessels are cargoes of 16 Poseidon missiles.

Concern at the transport of Poseidon missiles less than twenty miles from the Wexford coast is due to the volatile nature of the Posiedon warhead. The detonating compound, known as LX09, was responsible for the deaths of three workers at the Pantex corporation plant in Amarillo, Texas on the 30th of March, 1977. A report by the US Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons labaratory in 1975 warned that LX09 'displays some very undesirable properties. Any accidential ingition has a large probability of building up to a violent deflagration or detonation'.

In 1979, the US congressional general accounting office examined the consequences of one missile dettonating while in storage or transit. The GAO estimated 'A radiological cigar shaped cloud extending from the accident scene for about 28 miles, with a maximum width of 2.5 miles'.

In early morning, on the second of November 1981, an armed Poseidon missile containing ten nuclear warheads, plunged 17 feet, and smashed into the side of a supply vessel while being winched aboard a submarine, the USS Holland, from the supply vessel, the USS Los Alamos, at Holy Loch. The incident was reported in the New Statesman three weeks later.

'Everyone froze - we all thought we'd be blown away' said one eye witness. Had the missile detonated, it would almost certainly have set off a chain reaction which would have wiped out a sizable per centage of the population of Scotland and would have caused major fallout over Northern Ireland and the Irish Sea.

The US Navy claimed malfunction caused the accident, eye witness claim the winch operator was under the influence of narcotics.

In the same issue of the New Statesman an annonymous submariner from Holy Loch told reporter Stuart Hoggard 'My life wouldn't be worth living without dope. But you can't sample on a sub - they'd smell it. I do uppers most of the time, but as a special treat, like when I'm on watch, I'll do a little mescalin. It's a real buzz to be tripping out and know that you're cruising the Atlantic with Polaris missiles that could wipe out half of Russia. Man that's a real trip!'

On the 20th of May representatives of the Department of Communications attended a meeting of the U:t>T sponsored, International maritime organization in London. There they presented a report which recommennded 'that technical means should be looked at to identify trawlers to patrolling submarines'.

Ireland also recommended a review of designated submarine exercise areas and fishing areas to ensure safe separation of craft. Significantly the UK supported a proposal by Ireland to delegate a technical sub-committee to prepare a report and make recomenddations to next year's conference which will be held in July 1986. Ireland's presentation deliberately avoided criticism of British defence policy, according to sources in the Department of Communications.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs no action can be taken against foreign submarines which patrol around the Irish coast. The 'right of innocent passage is extended to all warships within the three mile limit if they travel on the surface and fly their flag of origin'. There is no legal mechanism to curb the traffic of missile carrying submarines in the Irish sea. It would appear there is no military mechanism to enforce the sovereignty of Ireland's three mile limit. According to sources in the Department of Defence 'We do not have the ships, aircraft, or sonar and depth charge equipment which is required for anti-submarine warfare'.

Mr Frank Doyle, leader of the Irish Fishermens organization does not see a change in Government policy making any impression on submarine activity in the Irish Sea. 'Rightly or wrongly' he said recently, the UK Government regard the nuclear submarines as being part of their nattional security. They are sensitive to outside criticism. For the Irish Government, it is a diplomatically sensitive issue'

The future looks bleak indeed for the Fishermen who attempt to earn a livlihood on the Irish Sea.

The History

April 1968

• American nuclear sub, the USS Robert E Lee, is snagged in the nets of French trawler 'Lorrain Bretagne' in the Irish Sea. The Robert E Lee took five hours to free itself from the trawlers nets.

April 1970

.Soviet nuclear powered sub - the 'November', sank in the Irish Sea, sixty miles south east of the Tuskar lighthouse. The crew were rescued by a Soviet 'Don' class naval vessel.

November 1970

• Holy Loch submarine base was the scene of a potential holocause when a supply vessel containing 16 Polaris missiles had a fire on a storage dock. Two Polaris submarines, the USS Francis Soctt Key and the USS James F Polk were berthed alongside the supply ship, the USS Canopus. One of the subs was ordered to cast off from the supply ship before the fire was extinguished near the missile

stores. Three sailors died in the accident and forty were overcome by fumes.

29th August 1973

• US navy midget sub, Pisces 111 is trapped on sea floor 94 miles off

Mizen head during the installation of a secret anti-submarine hydrophone system. Crew rescued by US navy. The system, called SOSUS consists of hydrophone platforms stretching from Brawdy in Wales to a point 100 miles south west of Mizen head.

June 1974

• Royal Navy sub HMS Andrew catches periscope in the nets of an English trawler in the Irish Sea.

18th April 1982

The 70 foot Clogherhead trawler, the Sharelga is dragged for two miles and overturned by a Royal Naval sub, HMS Porpoise. Left to drown the crew of five survived thanks to other fishing craft located nearby. The loccation of the sinking was thirty miles east of the Kish lighthouse. For two weeks the British denied responssibility. Finally Britain admitted cullpability and offered Mr Raymond McEvoy, the Sk ipper of the Sharelga, one hundred and ninety thousand pounds in compensation.

Mr McEvoy dismissed the offer as derisory, the I Fa estimate the value of the Sharelga at one million pounds. The case will appear before the claims court in Belfast shortly. The Department of Communications refused to make public a report on the incident prepared by the Maritime Surveyor.

18th April 1982

• The Crimson Dawn, a fishing trawler had its nets snared in a \ submarine cable being towed by an unidentified sub. The crew managed to free the trawler by cutting the nets I with axes. The incident occured twenty miles south of the Sharelga sinking.

20th July 1982

• A yacht the 'Fyefield Five' was sunk by a submarine believed to have been the HMS Opossum from Portsmouth. The yacht owner Mr

Ken Roberts of Rostrevor, County Down is a former Royal Navy officer. The yacht was sunk fifteen miles North of Landsend as the yacht made its way home along the Irish sea.

30th July 1982

• A Brittany trawler the Le Corse mysteriously disappeared East of the Tuskar lighthouse. All five crew members were lost. The trawler was never recovered. Weather conditions were reported as being perfect in the Irish Sea on that date.

6th August 1982

• A French trawler the 'Galv Ar Mor' went down in the same area as the

Le Corse in perfect weather conditions. All five crew mem bers were lost, the trawler was never recovered.

2 December 1982

• English trawler the 'Algrie' snares the nuclear sub HMS Spartan in the Celtic Sea. The sub surfaced and ordered the Algrie to cut their nets.

12th January 1983

• A 120 foot Brest trawler, the Cite D'Aleth, sinks six miles south east of Carnsore Point, County Wexford, All nine crew members were lost in the perfect weather conditions. The crew sent a distress signal, saying its nets were fouled by an underwater object. Relatives of the crew members have accused the UK, Irish,and French Governments of covering up the incident.

3rd February 1983

• French trawler Jeanne De Lorraine loses 1,100 metres of cable and nets, 22 miles east of Rosslare, after being towed by unidentified sub.

6.15am, 2nd September 1983 .100 miles South East of Rosslare the 16 missile, nuclear powered, USS Sam Rayburn, collided with nuclear waste barrels illegally dumped by the UK in the Irish Sea. The collision sent shockwaves through the sub, and it began to leak nuclear nadiation. On her return to Holy Loch radioactive steam could be seen rising from the Hull of the sub.

5th December .1983

• A young West Cork man lost his life when a 35 foot steel trawler, the Irish Ann capsized suddenly off Dunmore East. Local fishermen believe a sub was responsible.

9th December 1983

• An Exocet missile was fired from the Frigate HMS Jupiter from Aberpwrth range in Cardigan bay on the Welsh coast. HMS Brilliant another Frigate then fired a Sea Wolf missile at the Exocet to destroy it. The detonation of the missiles took place in the middle of the Rosslare to Fishguard ferry route. No prior warning was given to Sealink or Aer Lingus.

8th March 1984

• Unidentified sub dragged )

Clogherhead trawler the Oriel tor-two and a halfmiles in the same area as the Sharelga sinking. The Skipper, Mr Thomas Tallon had to disconnect seven thousand pounds worth of nets and cable to free h is vessel.

May 1984

• Three trawlers from Portavogue net submarines off the County Down coast during May.

May 1984

• English trawler the 'South Stack' disappeared off Holyhead in calm waters. The crew of three were never found. Holyhead coastguard could find no explanation for the disappearance.

30th July 1984

• The USS Nathaniel Greene loses

a propellor off the Wexford Coast and goes out of control. The sub shut off engines and surfaced. It was then joined by two auxilary vessels who towed the sub to its Holy Loch base. The sub was fully armed with Poseidon missiles. The Sub lost its propel lor and surfaced, in a commercial Sea route.

15th August 1984

• An unidentified sub dragged a Devon trawler the Joanne C for three hours. The trawler eventually got free. Damage was estimated at one thousand pounds.

21st February 1985

• A 56-ton Scottish scallop dredger 'Mhari L' left Kirkcudbright port. It was never to return. Six days later its wreckage was found on the Sea bed, eighteen miles off the East coast of the Isle of Man. Weather conditions were good that week. Fishermen believe that the only type of sub with the power to destroy 'a 56 ton vessel, would be one of the American or British nuclear powered and missile equipped subs from Holy Loch or Faslane.