Formal Investigation

Gaul hedder (1)

The Hull-based stern trawler F.V. Gaul was lost with all of her 36 crewmembers in very bad weather conditions in Arctic waters, north of Norway, in February 1974. No distress call was ever received, and apart from a lifebuoy, recovered from the sea in May 1974, a part of one of the Gaul’s liferaft containers and part of the plastic cover of the Gaul’s boat, both trawled up in 1977, no wreckage was found or positively identified until 1997.

A Formal Investigation (FI) was convened in Hull in 1974 to investigate the circumstances of her loss. The then Wreck Commisioner, Mr Justice Barry Sheen concluded “that Gaul capsized and foundered due to being overwhelmed by a succession of heavy seas”.

In August 1997, an expedition funded by UK and Norwegian television companies found, and positively identified the wreck of Gaul 70 miles to the north of Norway’s North Cape. Following the subsequent showing of the documentary on UK television, the Deputy Prime Minister asked the Marine Accident Investigation Branch whether it was possible to determine the cause of sinking from this new material. The MAIB reviewed the available footage, and concluded that a more detailed examination of the wreck would be required to make any such judgement. The Deputy Prime Minister therefore directed the MAIB to conduct an underwater survey of the wreck and report on its findings.

The MAIB carried out this survey between 10th -12th August 1998, and reported that new and important evidence had been found. A copy of the MAIB’s report can be found here. The evidence produced from the survey is both the reason for the rehearing, and the starting point for the new Inquiry, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister on 14th April 1999.

During the period 1st -25th July 2002, the MAIB conducted a further extensive underwater survey of the wreck to obtain further video footage. Innovative techniques and equipment were developed to achieve many challenging objectives which were agreed beforehand by the various parties to the Re-opened Formal Investigation (RFI). These included a detailed internal survey of the wreck to search for human remains. Samples of human remains were obtained for DNA testing.

The survey vessel used, MPSV Seisranger, was equipped with nine Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), which were deployed at a depth of some 265 metres. These included mini-ROVs, launched from the larger workclass ROVs, and used to explore the interior spaces.

Over 3,000 hours of high quality video footage was obtained, along with measurement data for various areas of the wreck. Further details, including images, of this survey are provided in the Survey 2002 section of this website.

It is the Inquiry’s hope that the new evidence, together with the evidence examined by the original Formal Investigation, and any other evidence not heard before the previous Formal Investigation will determine the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Gaul.

This website has been established to provide information regarding the RFI including the hearing transcripts and imagery used during the RFI. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, opened the RFI on Tuesday, 13th January 2004 at Europa House, Hull, before the Wreck Commissioner, Mr Justice David Steel.