Man feared drowned off Devon coast


Coastguards were today searching for a man feared drowned as he renovated an historic D-Day ship – which was one of only seven surviving vessels from the Normandy landings.

Man feared drowned off Devon coast

Yarmouth Navigator picture hours before sinking

The Yarmouth Navigator, a former Navy minesweeper, was being moved into a harbour when she started taking on water off the coast of Plymouth, Devon, at 6pm on Sunday.

Three crew members leapt overboard and were pulled from the freezing water at Plymouth Yacht Haven, Mount Batten, shortly afterwards.

But a fourth man is still missing feared dead and rescue crews resumed their search at first light at 8am yesterday.

The 90ft ship was one of around 5,000 ships that took part in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

She had been moored in Noss Marina at Kingswear on the River Dart and was being moved to nearby Plymouth Sound as part of renovation works when she began taking on water.

Crew members said the missing man had returned to the wheelhouse to retrieve navigation equipment shortly before the vessel sank.

Coastguards, RAF helicopters and search and rescue teams desperately scoured the 1.6 mile coastline for the missing man, before the search was called off at around 1.30am.

A spokesman for Brixham Coastguard said: ”The divers went down to the sunken vessel on Sunday night and found nothing, but the light was failing.

”It would appear the man had gone back into the wheelhouse to retrieve some navigation equipment, when the vessel finally sank.”

Shamus McCaffery, south west Devon sector manager for HM Coastguard, confirmed that crews were resuming their search at 8am yesterday.

He said: ”The search continues, there is always hope.”

The Yarmouth Navigator was transferred to the Army for training purposes in 1947 and took part in a range of peacetime duties until she was put on the naval disposal list in 1991.

Ownership was transferred Lieutenant John McGuire, of the Royal Naval Reserve, who renovated it and donated the vessel to the Sea Cadets for training.

In 2001 a campaign to save the ship faltered and it sat rotting in Dartmouth harbour until a year ago when Matthew Hunt is believed to have bought the ship.

He had spent six months restoring the ship to use as a pleasure cruiser.

It is not known if he was onboard the vessel when it sank and no details of the missing man have been released as rescue crews have still not made contact with his relatives.

The Yarmouth Navigator was ordered for the Royal Navy in 1942 and built by Richard Ironworks of Lowestoft during 1943 before being commissioned in January 1944.

She served as a support escort to coastal convoys from Scotland to channel ports.

As part of Operation Neptune – the Royal Navy’s part of Operation Overlord to liberate north west Europe from the Nazis – she took part in the Normandy Landings.

Her role was ferry stores and ammunitions from the larger ships onto the pontoon roadways to supply the fighting troops ashore.

After the war she saw further service in coastal waters before being transferred to the Army for training purposes in 1947.

She was named Yarmouth Navigator and took part in several peacetime duties including the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Coronation Fleet Review in 1953.

Further service with the Royal Marine Auxiliary Service and the Sea Cadets followed before she was put on the Naval disposal list in 1991.

She was transferred to Lieutenant John McGuire, RNR, of Dartmouth who slipped, surveyed and anti-fouled her before making passage for the river Dart. She since been used for further Sea Cadet training.

The ship is listed by the National Historic Ships Committee on its register of vital ships but unlike listed buildings, there is no official protection for ships.

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