'Unseaworthy' boat was drifting off the Skelligs with eight passengers

Anne Lucey

A boat was drifting in deep sea waters north of the Skellig Michael World Heritage site with passengers on board - just six days after an inspector from the Department of the Marine warned the skipper it was unseaworthy, a court has heard.

Cahersiveen District Court was told there were eight passengers on board the Pace Arrow 111, on May 21, 2014 when it was seen by other Skellig boatmen to be in difficulty and drifting "north of the Skelligs".

Six days earlier, on May 15, a Department of Transport Inspector had travelled to Ballinskelligs Pier to look at the vessel which had applied for a renewal of its passenger licence to operate to the Skellig Islands.

The inspector and had spotted "quite a number of defects" in the boat which would have rendered it unseaworthy, State solicitor Aidan Judge told the court.

The skipper, Sean Feehan Snr, also known as John Paul Feehan of Dungeagan, Ballinskelligs, was made aware of this and was told not to go to sea until the faults were addressed and the remedial work carried out.

"But the boat was brought to deep sea out to the Skelligs with eight passengers on board," Mr Judge said, adding that the boat had no passenger boat licence.

Two other Skelligs boat men would give evidence, the State Solicitor said.

They included one skipper who saw the vessel drifting with its passengers on board and knew it was in difficulty. The skipper went over to Mr Feehan Snr who told him he was out of diesel. The other boatman gave him diesel but Mr Feehan could not restart the engine.

"There was obviously a mechanical problem with the engine because when he got the diesel the engine still failed," Mr Judge said.

Another boat owner became concerned for the passengers on the drifting boat and advised Mr Feehan to get the passengers off .

"The eight passengers on board were all wearing life jackets," Mr Judge said.

A number of Skellig boatmen managed between them to transfer and divide the people to bring them to the mainland. They included the skipper of the boat who spotted it drifting - he returned after leaving his own passengers off on the mainland.

The owner and the skipper of the Pace Arrow 111 vessel were summonsed on two charges each but the question of jurisdiction on both charges had to be decided,"Mr Judge said.

The owner of the boat, Gary Feehan, of Dungeagan, Ballinskelligs, is charged with operating without a licence "in the waters near the Skelligs" on May 21, 2014, contrary to the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Safety Acts. A second charge against him relates to the seaworthiness of the vessel.

The summons alleges that the vessel went to sea "in such an unseaworthy state" the life of a person was "likely to be or was" in danger, contrary to Section 20 of the Maritime Safety Act.

The skipper on the day, Gary Feehan's father, Sean Feehan, also known as John Paul Feehan or Sean Feehan Sr, of Dungeagan, Ballinskelligs, "being the person in command or in charge of Pace Arrow 111" on the date, faces the same charges - operating a vessel as a passenger boat without a licence and it being in such an unseaworthy state as to endanger a person's life.

Solicitor for both, Padraig O'Connell, said his clients would be pleading not guilty and would "totally refute" the allegations.

Mr O'Connell said the owner, Gary Feehan, was not even in Kerry at the time, and was in County Cork.

Judge O'Connor said he was declining jurisdiction in both matters and was adjourning the matter for a book of evidence to be prepared and sent to the DPP for direction.

Kerryman

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