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Shell incidents under investigation

Last Updated: Thursday, June 11, 2009, 15:09

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

Gardai have confirmed that they will investigate the circumstances surrounding the sinking of a fishing vessel off Erris Head in the early hours of this morning.

Two men were rescued from a liferaft and taken to Castlebar general hospital, where they were later released.

Shell E&P Ireland said in a statement issued to RTÉ that it “emphatically rejected” any allegation that “people employed on the Corrib gas project were involved in any way in the incident which led to the sinking of the Iona Isle ”.

Mr Pat O’Donnell, owner of the vessel, told The Irish Times that he and his crewman Martin McDonnell had been held by armed men who boarded the 12 metre Iona Isle at about 2am this morning.

The vessel began taking water, and the two fishermen say they were fortunate to be able to take to the life raft before it sank.

Mr O’Donnell reported the incident to Belmullet gardai. Mr O’Donnell, who runs a shellfish company in Erris, refused to sign up to an agreement last year between Shell E&P Ireland and the Erris Fishermen’s Association over facilitating the laying of the offshore Corrib gas pipeline, due to his concerns about pollution from the refinery discharge pipe.

Under existing legislation, the developer cannot compel him to remove his fishing gear.

Malin Head Coast Guard has confirmed that it received a distress call from two men who were in a life raft after their boat had sunk about four to five miles east of Erris Head on the north-western shores of Broadhaven Bay just after 4.30am.

The Ballyglass RNLI lifeboat and a number of vessels, including the Garda Water Unit, the Nomad tug and other craft replied, and the two men were taken on board the fishing vessel Rachel Mary and brought to shore. Weather in the area at the time was good with a light north-easterly breeze.

In a separate incident, six people were arrested during an attempt to board dredgers working in Broadhaven Bay. Mr St John Ó Donnabháin of the Rossport Solidarity Camp said that group of 14 protesters in kayaks had taken to the water from Glengad at about 4.30am to protest over dredging activity by Shell contractors in the bay.

Mr O Donnabháin said that the Garda Water Unit broke paddles and used a hook at one stage to drag one of the kayaks. “We were totally unaware of what was happening at the time much further out with the sinking of the fishing vessel,” he said.

Gardai confirmed that six people were arrested at Glengad on public order offences.

Two people protesting over trucks entering the Shell Glengad compound were also arrested on Wednesday evening and appeared before Westport district court this morning.

Pobal Chill Chomáin and a number of local groups and residents withdrew temporarily from Bord Pleanála’s oral hearing into the onshore pipeline this morning.

Mr John Monaghan, spokesman for Pobal Chill Chomáin, said the sinking of the Iona Isle was “part of a chain of events causing great distress to this community, including the attack on Willie Corduff while he was protesting at Glengad early on April 23rd.”

Dublin Shell to Sea condemned the alleged assault on the fishermen and described as “attempted murder”. Caoimhe Kerins called on Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan to suspend work on the Corrib project and conduct an independent inquiry.

The Pro Gas Mayo group said it “notes with concern the allegation made on RTÉ radio that masked men were responsible for sinking a boat off the Erris coast, and the implied implication was that this by done by some sections of security connected to Shell or the State itself”.

“We would not accept this as being the true position, and is somewhat akin to the allegation made that similar masked personnel beat up a protestor under a lorry some weeks ago,” it said.

Green Party marine spokesman Ciaran Cuffe said a full Garda and Marine Casualty Investigation Board enquiry must take place to establish the facts behind this morning’s events.

“These incidents demand a full and impartial investigation. The sinking of Pat O’Donnell’s vessel the Iona Isle is a matter of deep concern, as it clearly raises tensions on all sides in west Mayo.

“Both the rule of law and the right to peaceful protest must be upheld. I am asking that the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Transport ensure that there are full transparent and impartial investigations.”

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