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Corrib Gas opponent’s sunken boat found

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

ÁINE RYAN

A FISHING boat which sank in mysterious circumstances off Erris Head, Co Mayo, in the early hours of June 11th last, has been located. Garda Chief Supt Tony McNamara said yesterday it was unlikely that the 12-metre Iona Isle, owned by a leading Corrib gas project opponent, will be salvaged.

He confirmed it had been located late last week after a Naval Service diving team identified the boat’s location off Erris Head.

“The boat was located in very deep waters by the diving team but it is unlikely it will be lifted. Considerations are the very high costs involved, the fact there was no loss of life, together with the likely evidence that would be gathered,” said Chief Supt McNamara.

The Iona Isle was one of a small fleet of crab-fishing boats owned by fisherman Pat O’Donnell.

Mr O’Donnell says in the early hours of June 11th, while guarding his fishing gear ahead of the arrival of the Shell-contracted pipelaying vessel, the Solitaire, his boat was boarded by four armed men.

He says two of the men held himself and crewman Martin McDonnell in the wheelhouse while two others went below. The men, who spoke with foreign accents, then steamed out to open sea. He says his boat subsequently sank, minutes after he and Mr McDonnell launched a life raft.

At the time, Shell EP Ireland said in a statement it “emphatically rejected” any allegation that “people employed on the Corrib gas project were involved in any way in the incident”.

Mr O’Donnell said yesterday he was not surprised his vessel would not be salvaged. “Of course I am disappointed. I was aware that any raising of the vessel would cost up to half a million euro,” he said.

He said he was unable to claim through his insurance policy for the loss because the boat sank due to “a terrorist act”. A Shell spokeswoman said: “Shell EP Ireland Ltd has no comment to make in relation to the possible retrieval of the Iona Isle. That is a matter between the gardaí and Mr O’Donnell.”

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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