HeadLine: BRING HOME OUR SEVEN LOST BOYS
Daily Record, 14/01/2000, p4&5
by SHAUN MILNE & VIVIENNE AITKEN
THE grief-stricken families of those lost on the Solway Harvester can
now only pray that their bodies are recovered – so they can be brought
home and properly laid to rest.
No one knows yet if any, or all, of the seven victims are still on the
boat which is lying in 130ft of water at the bottom of the Irish Sea.
But Lettie Harkness, a relative of one of the dead men, said: “If the
bodies are there on the boat there is a hope of recovery. It is very
important that they are brought back to their families.
“The Government have plenty of money to do so – I only hope they have
the compassion in their hearts to finance it.”
As she spoke, a specially-made candle with the number seven etched in
the centre was lit and prayers were said in the small Catholic church
of St Martin and St Ninian in Whithorn.
The church was opened to all denominations allow the community’s
outpouring of grief to take on a spiritual dimension.
Alongside the grief was a desire to have the bodies brought home so the
people of Whithorn, Isle of Whithorn and Garlieston can say their final
Miss Harkness, whose pregnant niece Karen Mills lost her husband Robin,
said: “I think it would help her to get him home.”
She recalled that when the Sapphire went down, the Government refused
to pay for the boat to be brought up from the sea-bed and the victims’
families had to raise the money themselves. She said: “I hope the same
doesn’t happen this time.”
Newsagent Mike Vickers, who owns a shop in the centre of Whithorn,
said: “Everybody here knows someone who has been affected.
“There is a sense that we need to get the boys home. If it’s not
possible, if they are not on the wreck then fine, you cannot magic them
out of fresh air.
“But the feeling coming across from my customers – people who have
known these boys all their lives – is that if it is technically
possible then it should be done.”
A deep depression hung over Whithorn yesterday. Sobs could be heard
from outside the homes of the bereaved as relatives tried to comfort
The Rev Alex Currie, Church of Scotland minister for Whithorn and Isle
of Whithorn, spent Wednesday night comforting those who had lost loved
He said: “We are still stunned by the news. This is a tight-knit
community and the tragedy has left few in the area untouched.”
Mr Currie said the reaction of the bereaved had been: “These things
happen elsewhere – they don’t happen here.”
He added: “We’re talking about a community of teenage men, we are
talking about men with families, we’re talking about men with their
lives ahead of them and these jobs were part and parcel of this
“This vessel was a large boat. These were men who knew the waters
around here and there are a number of questions that need to be
Asked to sum up the community’s feelings in the aftermath of the
tragedy, he said: “How would you feel when you have lost sons, fathers,
cousins, partners, when a community such as ours has lost seven of its
“All of these boys were looking forward to significant events in their
lives and their families have been left to pick up the pieces.”
At the scene of the tragedy, 11 miles off the Isle of Man, accident
investigators have already started their work.
They hope underwater cameras will reveal whether the bodies are still
on board – and perhaps give them a clue as to what went wrong.
But fishermen and marine experts remain baffled by the loss of the
21-metre scallop boat which was built in 1992, was well equipped, under
the command of an experienced skipper and capable of coping with the
worst weather in the Irish Sea.
Captain John Niblock, of Isle of Whithorn, who spent almost 40 years at
sea, said: “I can’t understand what went wrong. The Solway Harvester is
a large well-found boat that could basically go anywhere in just about
any type of weather. Boats like that are built for the sort of weather
you get in the Irish Sea.”
John King, of West Coast Sea Products in Kirkcudbright, who process the
local boats’ catches, said: “Something must have happened very
suddenly. I don’t think it could have been the weather. The vessel was
well equipped and able to withstand anything.”
As the inquiry got under way, investigators interviewed the crew of the
Solway Harvester’s sister ship, the Tobrach-N, which was one of the
first vessels on the scene after the alarm was raised and which berthed
in Kirkcudbright early yesterday.
The Isle of Man police are now in charge of what happens to the wreck,
having been ordered to investigate by the Manx Coroner of Inquiry
because the wreck is in waters which come under the island’s
They will send two officials to Scotland to liaise with Dumfries and
Galloway Police and then visit each one of the seven grieving families.
One police source said “It won’t be pleasant but they need to find out
the needs of the families if the bodies are found and weigh that up
against the practicalities.”
It could be weeks before the underwater examination is carried out –
much will depend on the state of the sea.
A spokesman for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said: “While
it is our intention to do this as soon as possible, the weather at this
time of the year can make such tasks difficult and it may be days or
even weeks before such an operation can be successfully achieved.”
But he added: “The search for answers will be exhaustive because the
families and those in the wider fishing community deserve nothing
He said the main aim of the survey would be to conduct a thorough
inspection of the wreck and to establish whether there was any visible
evidence to indicate why she sank.
Secondary aims would include examining the state of equipment on board,
including lifesaving apparatus, to see whether there was anything which
might have had a bearing on what happened.
The MAIB said they would also try to determine the sea and weather
conditions at the time of the accident, the reasons why the liferafts
did not inflate, and conduct a close examination of the design,
structure and operation of the vessel.
The deep feeling of loss yesterday brought back memories of the sinking
of the scallop-dredger Mhairi-L 15 years ago.
Five men died when it sank off the coast of the Isle of Man and John
King said: “Kirkcudbright has been through it before with the other
trawler. We had never expected another one.
“People cannot believe it has happened again.”
Margaret McCormick, the sister of one of the victims of the Mhairi-L
disaster last night urged rescuers to do everything in their power to
recover the Solway Harvester’s crew.
She said: “I hope and pray they find the bodies of the crew, because it
is awful if you never get them back. We never got my brother’s body
back, and because of that, my mother died a broken-hearted woman. She
was never able to bury her son.”