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No cover for sunk vessel due to ‘act of terrorism’

Saturday, June 13, 2009

LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent

THE MARINE Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) is unlikely to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sinking of a shellfish boat off Erris Head, Co Mayo, two days ago as it was “not accidental”.

The vessel’s owner, Pat O’Donnell, has been told insurers will not cover the loss as it is defined as an “act of terrorism”. The 12-metre Iona Isle was insured for €60,000.

Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe has called for a “full investigation into the incidents surrounding the sinking” of the 12-metre Iona Isle.

Mr Cuffe has written to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, requesting Garda and MCIB inquiries. He says Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, who is responsible for the Corrib gas project, is also aware of his call.

Mr O’Donnell and crewman Martin McDonnell were rescued from a life raft after, they say, the vessel was boarded at about 2am on Thursday off Erris Head by four armed men in diving suits who held them in the wheelhouse.

The vessel sank shortly before 4.30am and a distress signal was picked up by Malin Head Coast Guard. Údarás na Gaeltachta has passed a motion calling for an independent inquiry.

Chief Supt Tony McNamara confirmed yesterday an inquiry was being conducted, as Mr O’Donnell had reported the incident. However, Mr O’Donnell was “not co-operating”, he said.

Mr O’Donnell said he would co-operate through his legal representatives. He said he and his crewman were in shock on Thursday when met at Castlebar General Hospital by four detectives and a uniformed garda who asked them for their clothes.

“I was not able to give them my clothes as what I was wearing was the property of the RNLI lifeboat,” Mr O’Donnell said. “The RNLI provided me with dry clothes at Ballyglass lifeboat station,” he said.

Mr O’Donnell, who runs a shellfish firm in north Mayo and received a State marine award for his part in the 1997 Belderrig cave rescue, has been vocal about the marine impact of the Corrib gas refinery discharge pipe.

Last year he refused to sign up to an agreement between Shell and Erris fishermen to temporarily remove gear to facilitate laying of the offshore pipe. In September 2008, he reported to Belmullet gardaí that his two sons were almost rammed by a Shell contractor vessel.

Shell EP Ireland has “emphatically”rejected “the allegation that people employed on the Corrib gas project were involved in any way in the incident”. Mr O’Donnell said he never accused Shell staff of involvement. He voiced concerns over a month ago about security staff working for Shell at Glengad.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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