Victims’ families say submarine “responsible” for sinking boat in 2004

The families of two French fishermen who died when their trawler sank in mysterious circumstances off the English coast 17 years ago said on Monday they were experienced sailors and would never have compromised safety on board.

Yves Gloaguen and Pascal Le Floch, whose bodies were recovered by UK search and rescue teams, were among five crew members who died when the Bugaled Breizh sank on January 15, 2004.

A coroner’s inquest in London is looking into the tragedy and their families’ claims that a British or U.S. submarine may have become caught in the ship’s nets and dragged it down.

A picture taken on July 13, 2004 shows the wreckage of French trawler “Bugaled Breizh”, installed at a barge, as it is being towed, and escorted by military ships, towards a French military port of Brest. FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Le Floch, 49, came from a family of fishermen and was described as someone who had the sea “in his blood since he was small”, his family told the High Court.

“As a boy, he would go to sea during the school holidays… we would never have imagined such a brutal, even violent death,” they added.

Gloaguen, 44, skippered the trawler and was ‘jolly” and a “joker” but “serious when he went to sea”, his sister said.

“He would have never taken risks to put his men and his ship in danger,” she added.

Remy Gloaguen, brother of a missing sailor of the sunken ship Bugaled Breizh, looks on on January 18, 2014 on the Atlantic Ocean, off the western French coast near Loctudy in Brittany, during a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the shipwreck.  FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Thierry Lemetayer said his father Georges, 60, who also perished in the sinking, began working on trawlers at the age of 13 and was the family’s only breadwinner.

He remembered his father talking in a matter-of-fact way about a spate of accidents between fishing boats and submarines, expressing hope the problems could be solved.

“It hasn’t obviously changed quickly enough,” he added.

BBC News reports that Lemetayer said he hoped the inquest would “light a little red light in the heads of European submarine commanders so they take into account other boats when doing their exercises.”  

“They’re not out for revenge”

The Bugaled Breizh — “Children of Brittany” in the local Breton language — was based in Loctudy, in the Finistere region of northwest France.

It went down off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England in less than a minute in relatively good weather.

Yves Gloaguen and Le Floch’s bodies were recovered by UK authorities while that of another crew member, Patrick Gloaguen, 35, was found in the wreck during salvage operations.

The bodies of Lemetayer, who was the ship’s chief engineer, and Eric Guillamet, 42, have never been found.

French courts spent years investigating the sinking, which took place near where NATO and Royal Navy exercises were being held, but the probe was inconclusive.

Judge Nigel Lickley told the hearing on Monday that three submarines were in the vicinity: the closest was a Dutch submarine, Dolfijn, which surfaced after the first distress call.

A German submarine, U22, was also on the surface, and a British vessel, he added.

Lickley said the resumed inquest “should consider in proper detail” how it sank and “as part of that exercise we should look at whether any submarines might have been involved,” BBC News reported.

Speaking before the hearing, Thierry Lemetayer told reporters: “If the British Ministry of Defence or NATO says, ‘we did cover up things, we apologise and we’ll sort it out’, I’ll go home, I won’t bother anyone and you’ll never hear from me again.”

Lawyer Dominique Tricaud, who represents Lemetayer’s family, told AFP the proceedings “give us very great hope”.

“The families think that the (British submarine) HMS Turbulent was responsible for the sinking and are waiting for the trial to prove it,” he added, referring to the inquest.

“They’re not out for revenge but can’t grieve on a state lie.”

Former commanders to provide evidence

The former commander of HMS Turbulent, Captain Andrew Coles, will give evidence on October 12 about the vessel’s location on the day the Bugaled Breizh went down.

A senior officer from the Dolfijn will also give evidence.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy have both denied claims that one of its submarines was involved in the sinking.

In 2006, the French Marine Accident Bureau concluded that the sinking was an accident, most likely caused by one of the boat’s trawler net cables snagging on the seafloor.

Other scenarios, such as a collision with a freighter, have been ruled out.

The inquest into Yves Gloaguen and Le Floch’s deaths began in Cornwall in 2020 but was adjourned due to Covid-19 restrictions and transferred to London.