Salvage crew to raise trawler wreck

SALVAGE crews were today arriving at the spot where a trawler capsized and later sank with the loss of four lives as a major investigation got under way.

By Richard Cornwell

SALVAGE crews were today arriving at the spot where a trawler capsized and later sank with the loss of four lives as a major investigation got under way.

Two bodies were found in the sea and two fishermen are missing presumed dead after the tragedy, which happened 20 miles east of Felixstowe and Harwich.

The cause of the accident today remained a mystery and agencies refused to speculate on what the inquiry might find.

The 24ft vessel Flamingo is now resting in its watery grave on the seabed 160 feet below the waves, but today efforts will begin to bring it to the surface.

Coastguards organised a 15-hour air and sea search in the hope of finding some of the men alive, and brought in highly-trained navy divers to scour the upturned hull in case any of the men had survived in an air pocket.

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An attempt was made to tug the vessel back to shore, but then at 3.30pm yesterday, after being pulled half a mile, it sank. The navy divers made a thorough search of the hull, but they could find no other bodies on board.

A massive salvage barge from Belgium was today en route to try to refloat the Zeebrugge-based Flamingo so that investigators from Belgium and the UK Marine Accidents Investigation Bureau could begin their inquiry.

Salvage experts say heavy-lifting gear on the barge could be used to right the vessel. Other options include sealing the hull and pumping out the water, but much will depend on the damage the boat has suffered.

A Coastguard spokesman refused to discuss the possible reasons why the trawler capsized until the initial inquiry had established the likely cause.

Several theories have emerged. One is the possibility that there was a collision with another vessel, though there have been no reports of other ships being involved, or that the wash from a massive ferry or container ship could have caused a freak wave.

The crew of the Flamingo used nets attached to beams on either side of the vessel to fish the bottom of the ocean, and these could have become entangled in a wreck or other seabed debris.

What is clear is that the trawler capsized very quickly in good visibility and in "relatively good weather" for fishing.

Thames Coastguard was alerted to the accident just after midnight after receiving a signal from an automatic satellite mayday system on the vessel.

Devices on the trawler recognised that the boat was in trouble and beamed a distress mayday to a space satellite, but Coastguards said the capsize must have then happened so fast as there was no time for the crew to add any details.

The crew of the Flamingo were named as captain Michel D'Hondt, 32, Peter Coopman, 41, Franky Vanhondeghem, 38, and Michael Steenkiste, 18.

One body was found about a mile from the vessel and the other close to the upturned boat.

Harwich and Walton RNLI lifeboats, pilot boats from Felixstowe and Harwich, helicopters from Wattisham and Belgium, and also ships in the area took part in the search operation yesterday.