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Green Party calls for inquiry into Corrib sinking

Friday, June 12, 2009

LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent

THE GREEN Party has called on the Ministers for justice and transport to ensure that there are “full, transparent and impartial investigations” into the sinking of a fishing vessel off Erris Head, Co Mayo.

Two men, including Shell to Sea campaigner Pat O’Donnell, were rescued from a liferaft after the sinking off Broadhaven Bay early yesterday morning and were taken to Castlebar General Hospital where they were later released.

Mr O’Donnell has claimed that his boat was boarded by four men in diving suits, who held him and his crewman Martin McDonnell at gunpoint in the wheelhouse and left the vessel before it sank. Malin Head Coast Guard has confirmed that it received a Mayday shortly after 4.30am yesterday.

Shell E&P Ireland has “emphatically” rejected “the allegation that people employed on the Corrib gas project were involved in any way in the incident”. Gardaí said they will conduct an investigation.

Green Party justice and marine spokesman Ciarán Cuffe said that the incident demanded “a full and impartial investigation”, as the sinking of Mr O’Donnell’s Iona Isle, “clearly raises tensions on all sides in west Mayo”.

He believed the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) should investigate under section 24 of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Two community groups, Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile, which withdrew temporarily from the An Bord Pleanála hearing into the onshore pipeline yesterday due to the events, have called for independent monitors to be deployed.

Pobal le Chéile spokesman Ciarán Ó Murchú, former Air Corps pilot and managing director of Coláiste Uisce college in north Mayo, said that Shell EP Ireland was trying to “sow seeds of doubt” in relation to responsibility for the sinking of Mr O’Donnell’s vessel.

Similar “seeds of doubt” had been sown in relation to the April 23rd assault on Willie Corduff at Glengad, he said.

“If you had to choose between believing a company which has been found guilty of misleading its own shareholders, and between members of my community who never had criminal records before this project, I know who I would believe,” Mr Ó Murchú said.

Mr O’Donnell, who received a State award for his role in the 1997 Belderrig cave rescue, has voiced concerns about the impact of the Corrib gas refinery discharge pipe on the marine environment. He refused to sign up to an agreement between Shell and the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association to facilitate laying of the project’s offshore pipe.

Under current legislation, the developer cannot compel removal of gear. The Solitaire pipelaying ship is due in to start work on laying the offshore pipe, and the Naval Service has confirmed it was asked to support the Garda during the operation.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr O’Donnell said that the men who boarded the Iona Isle wore diving suits and spoke with broken accents. “We were held in the wheelhouse, while two of them went below. They were down there about 20 minutes and then came back up to the wheelhouse for what seemed like over an hour,” he said.

“When the engine cut out, they left on a rib [rigid inflatable boat]. I went down below to the engine room and it was flooding. I told Martin to put on his lifejacket, and I got the liferaft off the wheelhouse. I had a hand-held VHF and called Malin Coast Guard, which issued a Mayday. I also called Belmullet Garda station to report the sinking,” he said.

Malin Head Coast Guard has confirmed it received a distress call from a position about four miles east of Erris Head. 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 another O’Donnell-owned fishing vessel, the Rachel Mary, fished by Mr O’Donnell’s son, and brought to shore under escort by the lifeboat.

Shell EP Ireland said that the location where the fishing boat sank was approximately 10 miles away from its worksite at Glengad. Three vessels working for the project responded to the distress signal, it said. “A number of malicious allegations have been made against SEPIL and its security contractors in recent weeks,” the company said.

“In addition the Corrib project and some local suppliers have . . . been subjected to acts of criminal damage and lawlessness by protesters.”

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

Two people protesting over trucks entering the Shell Glengad compound were arrested on Wednesday evening.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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