Sunday 25 February 2018

Naval divers to conduct examination of Astrid wreck to prevent oil spill

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

NAVAL Service divers will conduct a careful examination of the hull of the wrecked Tall Ship ‘Astrid’ today in a bid to prevent an oil pollution spill.

Hugh Barry Pollution and Salvage Operations Officer of the Irish Coast Guard said that there was no sign of any pollution this morning from the 3.5 tonnes of diesel on board but assessments will be carried out over the course of the day

The 42m Dutch-owned brig sank after being driven onto rocks between Oysterhaven and Kinsale off the Cork coast at 12 noon yesterday (Wednesday) when her engine failed.

Miraculously, all 30 crew and sail trainees on board – including eight Irish trainees – were rescued in one of the biggest operations ever mounted by the RNLI and Irish Coastguard.

An exclusion zone has been set up around the wreck this morning as the Coast Guard assess the damage and wait to hear what action the owners of the Astrid plan on taking.

RNLI volunteers admitted it was “an absolute miracle” that all 30 were rescued safe and well given the scale of the disaster.

The ‘Astrid’, built in 1918, was visiting Ireland as part of ‘The Gathering’ celebration on her cruise from Southampton in the UK to Cherbourg in France.

She was wrecked just minutes away from the safety of Kinsale harbour.

However, her fuel tanks are understood to have been between 25pc and 50pc full given the length of the follow-on journey the brig faced.

The ship now lies in shallow water just off rocks at the base of cliffs near a headland some 1km from Kinsale Harbour.

Locals said that while there is not a great volume of fuel oil involved, it is still sufficient to have a significant impact on wildlife if it leaks.

Navy divers now hope to identify where the primary part of the hull now lies – and if the oil tanks are intact and can be accessed by special salvage crews.

Salvage divers arrived in Kinsale at 3pm yesterday and have assessed the scene.

The brig, which survived two World Wars and a major 1970s fire, began to break up just minutes after the last crew members left the wave-hammered deck of the Dutch-owned vessel.

One trainee, Rose Lynch (16), said everyone on board was “frightened but calm” as rescuers battling heavy seas and 30 knot gusts to save those on board.

Irish Coastguard director Declan Geoghegan admitted it was arguably the most “challenging and complex rescue” they had ever faced.

The rescue involved two Irish Coastguard helicopters, three lifeboats and a flotilla of small craft.

The 30 crew and trainees, from six countries including Holland, France, Belgium, the UK, Ireland and Spain, all escaped injury as 18 jumped into a liferaft while 12 others scrambled via the Kinsale RNLI lifeboat onto the ISA's ‘Spirit of Oysterhaven’ yacht.

Eight Irish nationals were on board ‘Astrid’ when her engine failed leaving her at the mercy of stormy seas less than 1km from rocky cliffs.

Darragh Comiskey (17) from Wexford sent his mother, Lorraine, a text message seconds after the ship had been driven onto rocks by stormy seas.

“He sent me a text saying the ship was sinking. I thought he was joking at first but then I realised something had gone wrong,” Lorraine told the Irish Independent.

Darragh, a student at Wexford CBS who sits his Leaving Cert next year, said everyone on board stayed calm because of the cool professionalism of the crew and rescue services.

“It was all a bit unreal. We never thought for a second we weren't going to be rescued. There were loads of boats around the place. I just want to say ‘thanks’ to the Irish Coastguard and the RNLI for saving us,” he said.

Darragh got a hug from his relieved mother, Lorraine, when he was brought safely ashore at Kinsale Yacht Club while his two younger sisters, Shannon and Aisling, beamed their delight.

Fellow trainee Rose Lynch (16) from Gorey, Co Wexford said the experience won’t put her off sailing.

“I'll definitely be going back out again. I think we are all pinching ourselves to see that it actually happened. Everyone was a bit frightened but no-one panicked. We were all calm because of the training,” she said.

“But it makes you appreciate everything you have. No one was hurt, thank God. But people lost everything they owned from passports to money and clothing.”

Christopher Hopcraft from Ballincollig, Co Cork said the skill and professionalism of the crew and rescue authorities impressed everyone.

‘Astrid’ skipper, Dutch national Pieter de Kam (62), said his priority was that everyone on board was safe.

“We seemed to lose power from the engine...the weather was not so good. We were pushed onto the rocks and that was it,” he said.

Captain de Kam paid tribute to the “outstanding work” of the Irish rescue services and the kindness of the Kinsale community.

The 22 foreign sailors were all provided with hot food, accommodation, fresh clothing and phones to contact home to reassure loved ones.

“The kindness has been wonderful.”


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