Thieves defy exclusion zone to ransack shipwrecked 'Astrid'
THIEVES defied a Naval Service exclusion zone to scramble on to the semi-submerged wreck of the Tall Ship Astrid to steal its compass, bell and wheel.
The theft was discovered by the Irish Coastguard last weekend and it is suspected the thieves got on to the wreck, off the Cork coast, late on Friday evening.
Operating in darkness, at least two raiders managed to locate and then cut free the bronze bell, the wooden wheel and the brass-encased ship's compass.
It is unclear whether the thieves took the items for sale as marine memorabilia or for their scrap metal value.
Irish Coastguard, Naval Service and RNLI personnel admitted that the thieves risked their lives during the robbery – such is the treacherous condition of the wreck off the Kinsale coast.
Gardai are now probing the incident and have asked for anyone who saw suspicious activity along the south Cork coast to contact them.
Irish Coastguard official Declan Geoghegan said that anyone trying to get on to the wreck would have required a small boat to support them.
Given the weight of the objects removed from the Astrid it is believed two or more thieves were involved.
"This almost certainly happened under cover of darkness," he said.
The Navy have mounted a 200m exclusion zone around the wreck which is now the focus of a major Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report.
The 42-metre Dutch-owned brig sank after being wrecked between Oysterhaven and Kinsale last week, after its engine failed.
Strong tides and winds drove the sailing ship on the rocks despite the desperate efforts of its skipper Pieter de Kam, and his Belgian crew.
A total of seven crew and 23 sail trainees from five countries were rescued in one of the biggest operations ever mounted by the RNLI and Irish Coastguard.
The RNLI admitted it was a miracle no one was seriously injured or killed in the complex rescue.
The Astrid will now be assessed by Castletownbere-based salvage operators, Blue Ocean.
Experts have said that such is the damage to the Astrid it will almost certainly never sail again.
The brig was built in 1918 and survived World War I and II before being badly damaged by a fire in the 1970s. It was refurbished and has been used for the past two decades as a sail training vessel.
For most of its seafaring career, it operated as a freight ship in the Baltic.