Missing fisherman is found dead in his bunk after ‘scallop wars’ boat sank


A body has been found in the search for a fisherman after he went missing as his scallop boat sank off the English coast on Saturday. 

The body of Adam Harper, 26, was recovered from the wreck of the Joanna C fishing boat in Brixham, Devon, on Monday night.    

Robert Morley is still missing after the pair were swept into the sea. 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.

Adam’s mother Sarah Jayne Harper said her son’s body was found in his bunk inside the boat. 

She posted on Facebook: ‘I just wanted to let everyone know that Adam has been recovered from the boat of the Joanna C and will be coming home to us before his final journey.

FOUND: Adam Harper, 26, has been found dead. His father described the end of the search and rescue mission on Sunday in a Facebook post as ‘a very tearful moment’ 

‘Adam was found in his bunk as we expected as he was in bed at the time of the accident. 

‘Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for everything. You have been amazing but can I please ask you to continue with your love and prayers for Rob and his family and keep our candles burning and lights shining to bring Rob back home where he belongs.’   

Their 45ft boat 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. But the mother of Mr Morley said the boat got into trouble when its fishing gear got tangled in whelk pots. 

Jackie Woolford told The Sun: ‘Robert was trying to untangle it. It was a freak accident that lasted ten seconds. There was nothing anyone could have done.’

She was visited at home by Mr Bickerstaff, who told her her son had died of the cold after clinging to a buoy. 

The search for two missing fishermen was called off on Sunday as relatives told of their fears for the lives of the men who had been aboard the 45ft Joanna C (pictured)

The search for two missing fishermen was called off on Sunday as relatives told of their fears for the lives of the men who had been aboard the 45ft Joanna C (pictured)

A Sussex Police spokesman said: ‘Following the tragic incident on November 21 in which the fishing boat Joanna C capsized south of Newhaven, the body of one of the two missing fishermen was recovered by divers from the wreck last night, Monday November 23. 

‘He has been identified as Adam Harper, 26, from Brixham, Devon, and his next of kin have been notified. Robert Morley, 38, from Pembrokeshire, is still missing. Our thoughts are with their families at this time.’ 

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

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

Relatives 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.

Before his body was found, 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.’ 

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.’

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

MISSING: Robert Morley, 38, is still 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.  

On Sunday it was reported 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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