On 15 April 2015, while in the Irish Sea, the Fishing Vessel KAREN sustained damage to her nets and deck equipment and, following repairs, resumed fishing shortly after.
On the information available at the time, the Royal Navy (RN) was confident that no UK submarine was involved in the incident, and I also informed the House in response to questions from the hon. Member for South Down (Mrs Ritchie) on 10 June 2015 (question 1312) and during Defence oral questions on 13 July 2015 (Official Report, column 579).
I now wish to inform the House that, on the basis of new information that has become available, the RN has now confirmed that a UK submarine was, in fact, responsible for snagging the KAREN's nets. The incident, the delay in identifying and addressing the events on that day, and their consequences, are deeply regretted.
It is standing Ministry of Defence (MOD) policy not to comment in detail on submarine operations but, exceptionally, I can say that this incident occurred because the submarine did not correctly identify the KAREN as a fishing vessel with nets in the water, and thus did not give her the berth she would otherwise have had. Moreover, had the submarine been aware of the incident at the time, which it was not, then the protocols in place under the "Code of Practice for submarine operations in the vicinity of fishing vessels" would have required the submarine to surface and remain on scene while the matter was investigated.
Notwithstanding the enduring requirement to operate RN submarines in busy coastal waters to guarantee our national security, this is the first incident between an RN submarine and a fishing vessel since the Code was introduced in 1993. Having identified the specific circumstances, the RN has already taken steps to further reduce the risk of such circumstances happening again: the instructions issued to submarine Commanding Officers (COs) have been updated to reflect the lessons learned, which will also inform the training given to future COs. The RN's reporting procedures have been reviewed to enable it to confirm more quickly whether or not a UK submarine was involved. These new arrangements will enable the Ministry of Defence's established claims procedures to be invoked with minimal delay and the matter fully investigated.
MOD officials have contacted the KAREN's owners and insurers to discuss appropriate compensation.
I can assure the House that we take the safety of fishing vessels, and of life at sea, very seriously. The RN is co-operating with the Marine Accident Investigation Board's independent inquiry, and will continue to engage with the UK's fishing communities to explain our position and how we are responding. We will continue to work closely with the Fishing Industry Safety Group and Trade Associations to ensure the continuing safety of fishing vessels and our ships and submarines.