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Minesweeping Trawler Untouched on the Seabed for 100 Years Protected

  • Rare and exceptionally well-preserved First World War trawler and minesweeper given special protection
  • First discovered off the Dorset coast in 2014, the wreck is considered to be ‘at risk’ from uncontrolled salvage

Diver looking at the engine of the 'Arfon' - Access to the site is restricted only to divers who have been granted a licence from Historic England. © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
Diver looking at the engine of the 'Arfon' - Access to the site is restricted only to divers who have been granted a licence from Historic England. © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd

Lying undiscovered on the seabed for a century, a rare steam fishing trawler fitted out as a mine sweeper for the Royal Navy during the First World War, has been given special protection by the Department for Culture Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.


The Arfon was built in 1908 in Goole, East Riding of Yorkshire. It worked out of Portland Harbour Naval Base during the First World War, sweeping mines laid by German U-boats along the inshore shipping lanes off the Dorset coast for three years before striking a mine in April 1917 and rapidly sinking with the loss of 10 of the crew of 13.

Untouched for 100 Years

The Arfon is exceptionally well preserved with the trawler’s key features such as its mine-sweeping gear, deck gun, portholes and engine room still intact on the seabed off St Alban’s Head.


Most of the wrecks around England’s coast that date from this period have been salvaged for their fixtures and fittings. The Arfon is unique in that it had been untouched for 100 years, until it was first dived in 2014. It is considered to be vulnerable to souvenir hunters and uncontrolled salvage.

The Fleetwood-based trawler ‘City of York’, a comparable vessel to the First World War trawler and minesweeper ‘Arfon’ that has been given protection by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd
The Fleetwood-based trawler ‘City of York’, a comparable vessel to the First World War trawler and minesweeper ‘Arfon’ that has been given protection by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. © Swanage Boat Charters Ltd

Joe Flatman, Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England said: “The Arfon shipwreck is a rare survivor of a type of vessel once very common around the coastline of Britain but which has now entirely disappeared, surviving only in documents and as wrecks like this one.


“Trawlers, minesweepers and other coastal patrol vessels played a crucial role in keeping the sea lanes around the British Isles open during both World Wars, a part of the war effort that is often overlooked. The crews who served aboard such vessels  faced tremendous dangers with unstinting bravery and devotion to duty. Historic England is proud to help tell part of this hidden story of naval endeavour during the First World War as part of our work’’.


The finders of the wreck, Martin and Bryan Jones who run a family dive charter business, are now working to secure preservation of this important site.

Martin Jones said: “We are delighted to be working with Historic England to protect and investigate the Arfon and we’re planning a special commemoration to mark the centenary of its sinking next April.”


The Arfon is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, which means that access to the site is restricted only to divers who have been granted a licence from Historic England.

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