17th July 2019. Gwennap Head National Coastwatch Institution station were the first to raise the alarm over a burning trawler.

At about 15:25 yesterday afternoon, the volunteer watchkeeper at NCI Gwennap Head spotted a huge plume of smoke approximately 4 nautical miles SE of the watch station. He immediately dialled 999, asked for the Coastguard and reported a ‘Mayday Relay’ of a suspected vessel on fire, along with the vessel’s location. At about the same time, Shearwater II, a wildlife trip boat operated from Penzance, was in the area and passed a similar message by VHF radio (in fact, the plume of smoke was now so large that Falmouth Coastguard started receiving multiple 999 calls from many different places along the coast). Falmouth Coastguard requested the NCI watchkeeper to continue to monitor the situation and keep them informed of developments whilst they tasked the Sennen and Penlee all-weather lifeboats to the stricken vessel’s aid.

In the meantime, Shearwater II had spotted two crewmen abandoning their 11-metre trawler to a life raft. Since the vessel was now blazing fiercely, they took the life raft in tow and moved it away to a safe distance, a wise precaution since the flames caused at least one on-board canister to explode. Whilst this was ongoing, the NCI watchkeeper ensured that Falmouth Coastguard were kept updated on the situation

The two fishermen were transferred to the Penlee lifeboat and taken ashore to Newlyn, (thankfully unharmed) whilst Falmouth Coastguard declared a half nautical mile exclusion zone around the still-blazing vessel (which later sank). Both the Sennen and Newlyn lifeboats then remained on scene for a period of time to monitor the situation and warn off any other vessels.

Photograph courtesy of Penlee lifeboat.

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Currently 56 NCI stations are operational and manned by over 2600 volunteers keeping watch around the British Isles from Fleetwood in the North West, through Wales, to the South and East of England to Hornsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire. 

NCI watchkeepers provide the eyes and ears along the coast, monitoring radio channels and providing a listening watch in poor visibility. They are trained to deal with emergencies offering a variety of skills and experience, and full training by the NCI ensures that high standards are met.








The words National Coastwatch Institution and Eyes Along the Coast and the NCI logos are Registered Trademarks of NCI.


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