The crew of a Skye fishing boat had a lucky escape this week when their net snagged on a seabed wreck in the Minch because an ongoing military exercise had jammed all GPS signals in the area.
Alasdair Montgomery’s 18-metre Uig-based vessel ‘Content’ was fishing for prawns some 15 miles off Rhu Reidh lighthouse in Wester Ross when the incident happened, at 1.30pm on Tuesday of this week. Five crew were on board.
“All the wrecks and seabed debris are marked on GPS charts but because ours had to be switched off we didn’t know about the one we snagged on,” Mr Montgomery said. “We were very lucky because when this happens it is easy enough for the winch to capsize the boat. We were lucky as well because it was good weather.
“We were stuck for about an hour before the net came loose. It’s torn, but the more important issue is the safety of the boats that are using these waters. This seems to be happening more and more often and this time around they are jamming the GPS for an hour a day three times a day. That is hell of a dangerous in such a busy stretch of water.”
Mr Montgomery also said that another vessel had fouled its nets on huge boulders earlier this week and struggled to winch them back aboard.
A spokesman for the Royal Navy in Faslane said, for this Joint Warrrior exercise, Whitehall had taken over official communications “for political reasons, because of the referendum”. This may explain the confusion and lack of publicity, he said.
A press release from Faslane dated 2nd April stated that the exercise, involving 34 vessels from eight NATO countries, started on Friday 28th March and will continue until Saturday 12th April.
The release added: “An essential part of the exercise is training in temporary radar and communication jamming. GPS jamming is limited to a confined area in the north-west of Scotland and the relevant authorities, including aviation and maritime communities, have been consulted and procedures are in place for any unforeseen activity.”
Fishing boats in the Minch were effectively blinded in 2011 during another Joint Warrior exercise.