THE heartbroken mum of a missing fisherman says she is desperate for the "sea to give him back" after a freak wave sank his boat yesterday morning.

Robert Morley, 38, is one of two men to disappear at sea after vessel Joanna C – which was involved in the scallop wars with French fishermen – sank beneath the waves.

HM Coastguard vessels, helicopters and RNLI lifeboats were scrambled around 6am after the Joanna C sent an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) alert three nautical miles off the coast as it started to sink.

Huge searches have launched again today in a bid to find Mr Morley and Adam Harper, 26.

It's claimed that Mr Harper stayed with the stricken boat because he can't swim.

A third man, skipper Dave Bickerstaff, 34, was rescued from the water off East Sussex after the 45ft scallop vessel overturned.

He was found holding onto a lifebuoy after the tragedy off Newhaven.

Mr Morley's devastated mum Jackie Woolford says her son is believed to have lost hold of a safety ring he'd been clinging to with his friend.

Ms Woolford, 56, told The Sun: “Someone said something about a freak wave had hit it and knocked it over.”

She said Mr Bickerstaff survived, and told how he resuscitated her son after he went “blue”, but then lost him moments later as they clung to the life ring.

She said: “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.

“He tried to give him mouth to mouth apparently and then got him back round, in the water.

“He did say he had the ring and Robert got cold really quick when he went in the water and then apparently he just saw him drift.

“He turned round and when he looked back Robert was gone.”

Yesterday, local fishing boats joined the frantic search for the crew of the Joanna C, which is registered in Brixham, Devon.

Ms Woolford, who said she's heard Mr Harper is unable to swim, believes her son won't be found alive.

"He’s not coming back. We’ve just got to wait for the sea to give him back now," she said.

Mr Morley had been due to marry his fiancée next summer.

He lived with his long-term partner Natasha Croydon in Llangolman in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with her 12-year-old daughter, understood to be from a previous relationship, and the couple’s son, eight.

The couple got engaged in Paris on the romantic Pont Des Arts bridge two years ago, and wanted to marry in a castle in Wales.

Neighbour Malcolm O’Brien said: “They have always been such a happy, hard-working couple.

“Natasha and the children will be heartbroken. Everyone around here will be shocked.”

We’ve just got to wait for the sea to give him back.

Mr Morley left school at 15. He worked as a fisherman for most of his life.

Paying tribute to him at the house he grew up in, his mum said: “He’s a clown, he was always funny.

"He was a little sod, he’d make you crawl the walls one minute and love him the next. He's never done anything but fishing.

“When he wasn’t on the boat he was on the land fishing – that’s all he ever does, fish.

"He just loved the boats even when he was little, that’s where we would be along the River Wall looking at all the boats."

Her husband Barry, 73, Mr Morley's stepdad, 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.

"Jackie’s lost her son and I’ve lost one of the loveliest stepsons I could have ever had.

"He loved life, he really loved his life. He was a good lad."

The Joanna C was previously involved in the scallop wars, a long-standing dispute between Brit and French fishermen that has seen UK vessels surrounded and rammed, while flares were allegedly thrown.

In September 2019, Fishing News reported that the boat had recently been overhauled during a nine-month programme of work.

The rebuild transformed the vessel into a scalloper capable of week-long fishing trips.

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