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Gardai: sinking story is fishy

June 14, 2009

Officers find no evidence to back claim that shellfish boat was sunk by commandos

Gardai say they have found no evidence to support claims by a prominent Shell to Sea protester that armed commandos sank his shellfish boat off the coast of Mayo last week.

Pat O’Donnell and Martin McDonnell, a crewman, were rescued from a life-raft after the Iona Isle sunk off Erris Head. Pat O’Donnell said his lobster boat was boarded at 1.30am on Thursday by four armed men in wetsuits. The masked commandos supposedly spoke broken English, carried handguns and travelled on a rigid inflatable boat, or rib, which emerged from the darkness.

O’Donnell alleges that two of the raiders sabotaged his vessel’s engine room while he and a crew member were held at gunpoint. “As soon as they left, I went to check the engine room and saw water flooding in, so I got the life-raft and rowed away in case we were sucked down,” O’Donnell said. “It was then I put out the Mayday.”

O’Donnell insists the commandos vanished into the night but the crew of other vessels that arrived on the scene in response to his distress call, including a garda boat and a RNLI lifeboat, saw nothing suspicious or any strange seacraft.

The Iona Isle, a 39½-ft lobster boat, sank shortly before 4.30am, as a distress signal was picked up by Malin Head Coastguard. The Rachel Mary, another fishing vessel owned by O’Donnell, which was making its way to nearby fishing grounds, rescued the pair.

O’Donnell, who runs a shellfish firm in north Mayo and has led protests against the construction of the Corrib gas refinery, denied yesterday that he had sunk his own boat.

Gardai say the timing of the sinking was suspicious as it coincided with an attempt by a group of Shell to Sea protesters to board dredgers hired by the oil company to carry out works close to nearby Glengad beach. The protesters tried to reach the dredgers using kayaks just as one of two garda water units left the area on hearing O’Donnell’s call for assistance. The garda vessels were monitoring the dredging works.

“I didn’t know the kayaks were going to board Shell’s boats,” O’Donnell said. “If I was going to sink the Iona Isle, I would have done it on my own. I wouldn’t put another person’s life in danger. I have put my life in danger before to help save lives at sea. It’s crazy what they are saying.”

He said he would not co-operate with the garda investigation into the sinking of his vessel, which he had owned for six years. He accused gardai of previously abusing their powers by arresting him and failing to bring charges.

“I have made numerous complaints to the gardai about my treatment at their hands but it’s a waste of time. Shell calls the shots up here.”

Chief Superintendent Tony McNamara said: “\ has refused to be interviewed or co-operate. All we can do now is speak to other people who were on the water that morning. The Mayday call was received at 4.40am and our unit left Glengad then. They were at the scene within 10 minutes and they saw no craft other than the Rachel Mary. Any other craft would have had to pass the garda unit.”

Additional reporting: Aine Ryan

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