A MAJOR air sea rescue is underway off the Irish coast after a Tall Ship with 30 crew on board including a number of disabled sailors began sinking.
The ‘Astrid’, a luxury Dutch-owned sailing vessel, was visiting Ireland as part of a Gathering regatta when she apparently struck a rock off the Cork coast and began taking on water.
An emergency alert was issued shortly after 12 noon when its crew noticed that it was taking on water faster than its pumps could cope with.
It is believed the vessel may have suffered an engine failure before drifting on to the rocks.
The 41m brig was between Oysterhaven and Kinsale when the drama unfolded.
The Irish Coastguard, the Kinsale RNLI and the Naval Service responded to the alert and were racing to the scene off Oysterhaven.
Rescue authorities want to get specific crew to safety before additional pumps are placed on board.
However, there are mounting fears they may not be able to save the vessel.
Eye-witness reports indicated that the 'Astrid' was beginning to break up on the rocks in heavy sea conditions.
The Irish Coastguard declined to comment on the rescue operation while it was ongoing.
However, it is understood no-one has been injured with all 30 crew now safely on board RNLI vessels.
A number of fishing vessels and pleasure craft in the Kinsale area have also raced to the scene to offer their assistance.
The major rescue response includes two Irish Coastguard helicopters as well as RNLI lifeboats from Kinsale, Ballycotton and Courtmacsherry.
The ‘Astrid’ had called to Ireland as part of a lengthy sail training cruise from the UK to France and then Ireland.
The Tall Ship had her keel laid down in 1918 but, after being damaged in an accidental fire, was purchased by a UK sail training consortium in 1985 and lavishly rebuilt.
She is currently owned by a Dutch-based charity.
The ‘Astrid’ is now a specialised luxury sail training vessel and is equipped to cope with disabled recruits.