THERE has been controversy over the plot of the new BBC drama Vigil, which appears to feature a Scottish fishing boat, the Mhairi Finnea, being dragged deep into the sea after a submarine is snagged in its nets.

Viewers must wait to see if it was HMS Vigil that sank the fishing boat or some other nation’s submarine, presumably Russian.

It was a very powerful part of the opening episode on Sunday night, and immediately sparked memories of a real-life tragedy in which the trawler Antares was sunk by Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine HMS Trenchant in the Arran Trench off the Isle of Arran in the early hours of November 22, 1990.

Four fishermen died that night. They were skipper and boat owner Jamie Russell, 33, Stewart Campbell, 29, Billy Martindale, 24, and Dugald John Campbell, 20. Russell, Martindale and Dugald John Campbell were all from the village of Carradale, while Stewart Campbell was from Campbeltown.

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The obvious conclusion for viewers was that the starting point of Vigil was at least partly inspired by the Antares tragedy.

A spokesman for the BBC denied this saying: “BBC drama has a rich history of exploring stories in a sensitive and considered way.

“Though underpinned by extensive research, Vigil is a fictional drama and is not inspired by or based on any specific real-life events.”

Oh really? Read on and judge for yourselves.

Some members of the families of the victims certainly did not see Vigil that way and have expressed their upset at the graphic scenes in which the Mhairi Finnea was pulled under, killing its crew. And having heard the boat being sunk on sonar, Martin Compston playing Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke actually mentioned the Antares to his captain, Commander Neil Newsome, who had him removed so the Vigil could carry on its mission.

There have been no other reported sinkings of Scottish fishing boats by nuclear submarines, though in 2015, a Northern Irish fishing boat, the Karen, was dragged backwards through the Irish Sea after its nets were snagged by a dived Royal Navy submarine.

The sub was never officially named, suggesting it was a Trident submarine like Vigil – their locations are never divulged.


THE sinking of the Antares was inquired into by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and a Fatal Accident Inquiry, so we can be sure of the sequence of events.

A pelagic trawler, Antares was fishing for herring and mackerel. It had landed fish at Largs over two days before heading out across the Forth of Clyde on the night of November 21.

Fishing near to two other boats, the Heroine and Hercules II, skipper Russell decided to head up the Trench at exactly the same time as HMS Trenchant, a nuclear-powered hunter killer submarine of the Trafalgar class, was on exercise in the area. A trainee skipper had taken the helm as part of the Perisher course for possible submarine captains, renowned as one of the most difficult exercises in the Navy. At around 2.20am the nets of Antares were snagged by the submarine, and the fishing boat was pulled over, sinking in 150 metres of water.

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Trenchant did not surface at first, and when it did, they found the Heroine and Hercules II fishing normally, the officers on board Trenchant concluding that there were only two boats and they were both fine.

When it was noted the following morning that the Antares was missing, a full scale search and rescue operation was launched, and the wreck was soon found and then inspected by divers.

The bodies of three crewmen were found either on the boat or adjacent to it; the fourth body was caught in a trawler’s net five months later.


SHERIFF Principal Robert Hay, in a 57-page determination at the end of the Fatal Accident Inquiry, laid the blame fairly and squarely on the officers and crew of Trenchant.

He found that the accident was a result of human error, including a failure to observe the instructions of the Flag Officer Submarines contained in a guidance booklet on fishing vessel avoidance.

The submarine did not surface until 33 minutes after the collision, for reasons which were not satisfactorily explained. That delay, and the delay in notifying the incident, might have contributed to the loss of life.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s report included a chilling statistic: “There have been a series of incidents involving submarines and trawlers over the last few years and prior to this particular incident the recorded number involving allied submarines since 1980 was 15.

“One of these incidents resulted in the foundering of the trawler involved, namely Sheralga (sunk in the Irish Sea) in 1982.”

The report concluded: “The sole cause of the collision was a partial breakdown in the watch-keeping structure and standards on board Trenchant.”