Two fishermen feared dead and a third rescued as boat sinks in Channel

Pictured: Two fishermen who are feared dead after ‘scallop wars’ boat sunk in Channel as a third man is rescued after clinging to a buoy for almost four hours

  • Families of Adam Harper, 26, and Robert Morley, 38, are fearing for their lives
  • The men were on board the Joanna C, which sunk off the UK coast on Saturday
  • Skipper Dave Bickerstaff, 34, was rescued and taken to hospital hours later
  • The boat had previously been a target of the so-called ‘scallop wars’ with France 

A search for two missing fishermen was called off on Sunday as relatives told of their fears for the men’s lives.

Adam Harper and Robert Morley were swept into the sea when their scallop boat sank off the English coast on Saturday.

A third man, the boat’s skipper Dave Bickerstaff, 34, was rescued after he was found clinging to a lifebuoy almost four hours after the fishermen raised the alarm.

Their 45ft boat, the Joanna C, was previously targeted by French fishermen during the so-called scallop wars in the Channel.

Relatives of the missing men said they had been told the boat was hit by a ‘freak wave’ shortly before it sank.

A search for two missing fishermen has been called off as relatives told of their fears for the lives of the men who had been aboard the 45ft Joanna C (pictured) along with a skipper who was rescued

They also told how Mr Bickerstaff fought to save Mr Morley, 38, and had attempted to resuscitate him in the water before the two men became separated.

The skipper was taken to hospital for treatment but an air and sea search continued for Mr Morley and his 26-year-old crewmate Mr Harper.

Mr Harper’s father Steve Walters posted on Facebook, saying: ‘This is a very tearful moment for both families still hoping for two miracles to happen. It’s time to come home to your families now lads.’ 

Adam Harper, 26, is one of the missing crew members. His father described the end of the search and rescue mission in a Facebook post as ‘a very tearful moment’ 

Their boat sent out a distress signal at 6am on Saturday, which showed they were around three miles off the coast of Seaford, near Newhaven, East Sussex.

A Royal National Lifeboat Institution crew found Mr Bickerstaff conscious in the sea and he was taken to hospital by helicopter.

Mr Morley’s mother Jackie Woolford said Mr Bickerstaff told her how he attempted to resuscitate her son after he went ‘blue’ with cold in the 13C (55F) water.

She told The Sun: ‘Dave’s ok. He was the one that told us Robert went under and he got him back up, and he went down again and Dave lost him.’ She said Mr Bickerstaff then became separated from her son, saying: ‘He turned round and when he looked back Robert was gone.’

She added of her son: ‘He’s not coming back. We’ve just got to wait for the sea to give him back now.’

Robert Morley, 38, is also missing. The skipper tried to resuscitate him in the water before they became separated 

Mr Morley’s stepfather Barry Woolford, 73, said: ‘David the skipper said that Robert was suffering from the cold and slipping away and apparently a wave or something must have parted them.’

Mr Morley, from Newhaven, was due to marry his fiancée Natasha next summer. The couple have an eight-year-old son. 

A spokesman for HM Coastguard yesterday confirmed the search for the missing men had been called off.

Skipper Dave Bickerstaff, 34, was the only member of the three-man crew to be rescued. He was taken to hospital by a helicopter

Debris was found near the spot where the emergency beacon was set off, but there was no sign of the two missing fishermen.

Lifeboats, two rescue helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft all searched the area, and coastguards praised local fishermen who helped out. 

Well-wishers left candles and flowers near a monument in Brixham, Devon, where the Joanna C was registered.

The boat was pelted with bottles and stones off the coast of Normandy by a 20-strong fleet of French boats during tensions over scallop fishing in the Channel in 2015. The animosity flared up again in 2018.

The ongoing fishing dispute – known as the scallop wars – escalated again last month, when two other British boats were involved in a confrontation with around 20 French vessels.

The tensions have been blamed on a difference in fishing restrictions between the UK and France.

British boats are allowed to fish all year, whereas the French halt scallop fishing between May and October, and blame the UK for depleting stocks.

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