1960: Skipper shot as Loch Esk attacked

Fleetwood trawler Loch Esk
Fleetwood trawler Loch Esk

With wounded skipper James Richard Wayman at the helm, the Loch Esk returned to Fleetwood with a bullet-riddled bridge.

With wounded skipper James Richard Wayman at the helm, the Loch Esk returned to Fleetwood with a bullet-riddled bridge.

Detectives from the Eireann Civic Guard were questioning fishermen in the Donegal region after the Fleetwood trawler came under rifle fire on June 11, 1960.

It was understood the vessel was approached by three motor fishing boats containing around 20 men each, four or five miles off the coast of County Donegal, and when the skipper stuck his head out of the wheelhouse, he was met with rifle fire from all three boats.

The 52-year-old, of Harris Street, Fleetwood, was hit in the left thigh by what later appeared to be a .22 bullet.

Bosun Ronald Clark took the wheel under orders to make for open sea.

The Loch Esk dragged her nets for six miles before heaving to and the 12-strong crew hauled them aboard.

Bosun Clark later said: “They were aiming directly at the wheelhouse. It was the crew’s first trip to the Irish fishing ground.”

The trawler put in at Cambeltown to report the incident.

On arriving back in her home port, skipper Wayman stiffly climbed down the iron ladder to the deck and said: “I don’t want any fuss. I’m off home to a good dinner and later I will go to the doctor’s.

A bullet has passed through the closed wheelhouse door, through his left thigh, and lodged in the far side of the ship.

Bosun Clark opened up some more about the incident.

He added: “It was very dark. Suddenly the guns opened up. I don’t know how many there were but bullets simply peppered around us.

“They were shouting and calling us all the names under the sun. I’m sure they meant to board us... they followed us, still shooting, for about half an hour.”

Irish detectives interviewed 17 men about the
incident and eventually charged one with wounding and causing grievous bodily harm.

The skipper said he would not attend the hearing without police protection and assurances he would face no action.

The defence claimed the Fleetwood vessel was fishing illegally and the men went out to chase the trawler away, firing across her bows in the process.

The issue was raised in Parliament.

Antrim South MP Professor D Savory said in the Commons: “No fishermen from Eire would be refused the right to British or Northern Ireland waters. Why not demand reciprocity?” The matter was then dropped.