Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fight Valentia coastguard station closure

The proposal being considered by the Deparment of Transport to decommission Valentia Coastguard Station must be opposed by all who have an interest in Irish maritime affairs. Transport Minister Noel Dempsey (from practically landlocked Meath) is pushing the proposal to recentralise all coastguard co-ordination to two new centres at Galway and Drogheda. If this proceeds 17 people will lose their jobs at Valentia Island in Co. Kerry or be re-located to one of the other centres.

Valentia has co-ordinate marine rescue efforts off Ireland's south and west coast for decades and has done it very well. In 2007 to date more than 600 people can thank Valentia Coastguard for the fact that they are alive and in 2004 it was involved in some 3,000 rescue call-outs.

It is indeed a measure of the present government that it lumps Marine and Transport under one government deparment with Marine being very much the poor relation. As an island nation the marine is vital to our economic wellbeing and our future. We have just had our territorial area extended to give us a 200 mile limit with regard to ownership of underwater resources around off our coast. Minister Dempsey of course does not have a good record in relation to protecting these resourcesa as the people of North West Mayo could tell you. Let us hope that the government will not give away our oil and gas resources for practically nothing as in the recent past.

Getting back to Valentia it is essential that a campaign be mounted in the South West to fight for its retention. We can ill afford its loss.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Choir recital for cancer research at St. Colman's

St Colmans Cathedral

There will be a public concert at St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh on Saturday, 3rd November 2007 in aid of the Cork Cancer Research Centre at the Mercy University Hospital. The recital will include music and song from St. Colman's Cathedral Choir with conductor Dominic Finn and the Cantilena String Quartet.

Admission to the concert is free but a collection will be taken up during the interval on behalf of the Cork Cancer Research Centre.

For more details on the centre's work visit their website at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why not a Municipal Marina for Cobh?

The Cobh Marina story rumbles on and is likely to rumble on for at least another 18 months to 2 years as another attempt is made by the developers of the proposed marina to get planning approval. The mood of the meeting at the Commodore Hotel last Friday night was fairly definite - "get the objectors to change their minds". Any renewed planning application will require changes in the plan - that's how the planning laws work.

So where to from now. It seems to me that the main point of objection was the 200 apartments and the hotel/bar complex on site. There were also questions about the foreshore but the real crux was the accommodation and ancilliary buildings. It also seemed to me that while the objectors are standing firm, the pro-marina lobby were also fairly stuck fast on the single proposal of a residential style marina to be built by the present developer and nobody else.

When the possibility of building a marina without the apartments and hotel was raised it was dismissed out of hand - it would cost at least €5 million said the Mayor. Sounds like peanuts to me in today's Ireland. Surely it would be worth considering at least?

Now to the idea of a Municipal Marina - that is one built by the town itself without a developer. Impossible? It would be a loss-making disaster? Well Cork City has a very successful and popular Municipal Golf Course at Mahon, that's not a disaster and municipal marinas are quite common around the world, most of all in that bastion of big business and private enterprise the United States of America. Indeed the US state with the biggest number of publicly owned marinas is Florida - one of the wealthiest places in the world per capita.

Take for example Titusville, Florida - population 42,0
00. It has a municipal marina (see photo) built and run by the city - and did not require the building of hundreds of apartments. It has full facilities for boat repair, chandlery, fuel, etc.
Clearwater, Florida and Leamington, Ontaria (Canada) and Las Dunas (Spain) are other examples of successful city or town run marinas. There are also municipal marinas around various parts of the United Kingdom.

Wouldn't work here you say? Well Kilrush County Clare has a municipal marina, so has Mountshannon on Lough Derg, both much smaller communities than Cobh.

Cobh needs a Marina, but why not be a bit more open minded on the options available?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Public Meeting on Marina

A Public Meeting will be held in Cobh this Friday night (12th October 2007) to discuss the situation following the rejection by An Bord Pleanala of the proposed Marina project for Cobh.

The meeting will be held at the Commodore Hotel at 8.00pm and all are welcome.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cork Docklands development goes to planning stage

Earlier this week it was annouced that the Cork Docklands development was going to the planning authorities within the next week. The proposed development is nothing new - it has been on the drawing board for the last six or seven years - but it is now one step nearer to becoming a reality.

The plan will cost in the region of €2 Billion (that's €2,000,000,000) and will include a 30 storey high appartment block and an "iconic building" which will house a restaurant run by a "world renowed chef" and some 600,000 square feet of office space. It will also involve moving the existing city dock business and the oil terminals on the Marina downstream.

Now I would be the first to acknowledge the need to do something drastic with the existing docks. I grew up only a few hundred yards from them and I have strong memories of the smell of fertilizers and chemicals coming from the docks and the nearby Goulding's factory. There were days on which you simply could not open a window, no matter how warm it was, because of the sulphrous air which caught in your throat.

However it strikes me that a lot in this plan is taken straight from the Dublin Docklands development which is itself based on the London Docklands developed under Maggie Thatcher. The term Yuppieland comes to mind.

Part of the proposal is a metro line through the centre of the development. Now excuse me but the last time I went along the Marina it was a pleasant walk on completely flat ground. There are parts of Cork in far greater need of a proper public transport system.

I'm not against the development of this area but I feel it should be a more mixed development - without the high-rise and that the area present east of the Marina ESB power station (the start of the Marina where the old "20 to 1 gun" is located and the area near Pairc Ui Chaoimh stadium) should not be included in the plan - they are part of the Marina, not docklands.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ferry debacle rumbles on

I'm back from the hols and find that the debacle over the Cork to South Wales ferry is still rumbling on with conflicting news from different camps. Minister Micheál Martin says there is hope for a new service - but it needs public money. Nothing about the hundreds of thousands pumped into Swansea-Cork Ferries to start it up and no accountability. No way! The best thing that could be done now is for the local authorities to establish a new ferry company and this time that it should remain with a majority of shares in public hands. Let the business interests put their money where their mouths are.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Huge crowds in Cobh for Festivals and Liner Visit

Tens of thousands of people flocked to Cobh last weekend for one of the biggest events the harbour town held since the Tall Ships Race visited Cork back in 1991. The main attraction was the visit of the huge luxury cruise liner Navigator of the Seas with her 3,800 passengers and 1,200 crew.

The Brunomart French market was on the Pier Head this year with lots of stalls selling a wide variety of goods including leather goods, traditional French / Breton sausages, pates, cheeses, sweets and cakes, crepes, etc. while the local Farmer's Market was also present at the Promenade. Other highlights of the weekend were the Maritime Song Festival with events in the Sirius Art Centre, in the Promenade and in some local hostelries like the Roaring Donkey and Pegs Pub in Carrigaloe. The gardaí did a great job in controlling traffic and

Cobh Town Council deserve special mention for having a team of people out very early on Sunday morning to clear up the litter and empty the wastebins for another day.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cobh Maritime Song Festival 1 - 7th June 2007

The Cobh Maritime Song Festival is back again this year and will run from Friday 1st to Thursday 7th June 2007 in the Cork Harbour town. There will be musical acts from Ireland, Poland, the United States, France and England and among the guests will be Sharon Shannon and Declan O'Rourke from Ireland, Banana Boat from Poland and Dan Miller & Bob Conroy from the USA.

The festival will also coincide with the South of Ireland Pipe Band Festival also being held in Cobh and the annual visit to the Cobh Farmers Market of Breton and other continental stalls selling their exotic produce.

for further details go to the Cobh Maritime Song Festival's homepage

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Argentinian tall ship to drop Cork visit

I was disappointed to hear (via Tom McSweeney's Seascapes on RTE Radio 1) that the Argentinian tall ship Libertad (liberty) is not now to visit Cork next month as planned because of the low ESB cables near the Cross-River Ferry at Carrigaloe-Glenbrook. The same reason was given for Cork's failure to land the prestigious Tall Ships Race which we hosted so memorably and successfully in 1991.

The Libertad is visiting Ireland to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Admiral William Brown, founder of the Argentinian Navy who was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo in 1777 and died in Argentina on 3rd Marcy 1857.

So while Cork has one of the best ports in Europe for hosting such sailing vessels pure bad planning and lack of foresight means that ships with very high masts can't safely get beyond the lower harbour. Isn't about time that this problem was sorted out?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cork-Swansea freight service hits the rocks after six weeks

Remember I covered the story about how the Cork-Swansea car ferry had been withdrawn after they failed to find a suitable replacement for the m.v. Superferry? That was last January. Then in April of this year (2007) I reported that at least they had managed to set up a temporary freight service until the car ferry could be reinstated.

Well it turned out to be more temporary than even I thought because the new service was withdrawn on May 15th after just seven weeks in operation. The temporary replacement and freight-only vessel, m.v. Victoria was simply not up to scratch and they ran into a load of other difficulties.

It only proves my contention that the maritime industry in this country is the cinderella industry and that Ireland continues to turn its back on the sea.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Belching out black smoke

If you drive a car in the Republic of Ireland (and most EU countries) you have to have your vehicle tested every two years for safety, equipment, lights, and carbon emissions. The government requires it to be done and you're legally obliged to have a National Car Test (NCT) certificate once the car is two years old or more.

I wish it applied to ships too, especially those of the Irish Naval Service.

A few days ago I saw a pall of thick black smoke over the harbour near Haulbowline Island where the Naval Service is based (in most other countries it's called the navy, but not here). Then I noticed one of the naval ships about a half mile ahead of the smoke and I soon saw that it was the source of the smoke. The smoke was so black and thick that I couldn't make out which naval ship it was, but I could see by its stern that it was one of the older ones which have a rounded stern whereas the newer ones have a flat transom. It was probably the 27 year old L.E. Emer or Aoife.

Honestly the smoke looked like it came from the old days of coal fired boilers. Obviously all powered ships (unless they are electric or solar powered) give off a certain amount of smoke, but this was ridiculous and the black pall hovered over the harbour for half an hour after the ship had gone because it was a flat-calm, windless day.

If I have to service my car then the navy, sorry, naval service should do the same. Get them ships serviced boys.

Flags of Convenience = danger for sailors

Yesterday (April 14th) a chemical tanker, m.v. West Sailor, was towed to Cork Dockyard after a fire in its engineroom had crippled the ship shortly after it had delivered a cargo of sulphuric acid at the port of Foynes in the Shannon Estuary for the Aughinish Alumina factory.

It has been reported that seven of the ship's fifteen crew members want to leave the ship because conditions on board are so bad. After the fire crew had to sleep in cabins directly over where the fire had taken place and one is being treated for smoke inhalation. The International Transport Federation (ITF) - the international union for seafarers - visited the ship and expressed concern for the safety of the ship's crew.

The West Sailor is registered in the Maltese port of Valetta. Now Malta is known as a Flag of Convenience country. The ITF describe Flag of Convenience (FOC) as follows: "FOCs provide a means of avoiding labour regulation in the country of ownership, and become a vehicle for paying low wages and forcing long hours of work and unsafe working conditions. Since FOC ships have no real nationality, they are beyond the reach of any single national seafarers' trade union".

Since I was very young I have been fascinated with ships and would look at every ship's flag and stern to find out where it was from. In Cork port, where I live, the majority of visiting ships were registered in ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg, London, Dublin or Antwerp. Nowadays most are registered in Flag of Convenience countries.

As I write there are just seven ships in Cork Port which is quiet (it was 15 yesterday). Of those seven, two are registered in Antigua & Barbuda, with one each from Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, the French Antartic Territory, Panama and Malta. Every single ship is FOC registered.

This means that ships crew are on lower pay, work in poorer conditions, generally non unionised and of course the rules regarding ship safety go out the window too. If you register a ship in the Port of Cork, for example, you will have to conform to EU and Irish safety law, the Irish minimum wage and the crew are entitled by law to join a trade union. Not so in Flag of Convenience countries who generally employ people from poor countries on the lowest of pay and often that pay is withheld from them and they are left penniless far away from home and usually unable to speak the local language.

Last year you may remember a big industrial dispute in Irish Ferries, which runs passenger / car ferries from Dublin and Rosslare to Britain and the European mainland. Irish Ferries likes to model itself on Ryanair and calls itself "the low fares ferry company". Irish Ferries wanted to sack all its 540 workers and replace them with foreign staff on half the pay and with worse conditions. It also wanted to re-register its ships in Cyprus, a Flag of Convenience country. There was a big row about it and the Irish trade unions threatened industrial action. The government opposed it too and a quarter of a million people took to the streets of Dublin, Cork and other cities in protest. But it didn't matter. The unions did a deal to get the best possible redundancy bargain for their members and some could keep their jobs, but all new staff would be non-union and low paid and the ships were re-registered, mostly in Cyprus.

In the end the workers were forced to accept the deal. The government did nothing except posturing and the unions accepted the deal.

The International Transprort Federations' campaign on Flag of Convenience ships deserves to be supported and this Blog is happy to support it. The ITF has more information on its website at

Friday, January 12, 2007

Double tragedy at Sea

The loss of two Irish fishing trawlers off the Wexford / Waterford coast is the latest fishing tragedy to hit the area. As I write seven fishermen are missing, presumed drowned. Five men have been lost from the Dunmore East based Pére Charles while two more are missing from the Kinsale based Honeydew II. Two crewmen were saved from the latter which went down only 13 miles from the Pére Charles.

Fishing has played second-fiddle to agriculture in this country for generations and when Ireland joined the European Economic Community (forerunner to the European Union), Fianna Fáil sold out our fisheries to all comers. Now our Naval Service patrols Irish waters to protect it for ships of all EU nations, not just the Irish and indeed to enforce tight quotas which are needed because our fisheries were wiped out, mostly by our European 'partners'.

Investment in fisheries is a mere fraction of agriculture and many boats are old and dangerous.
Isn't it time Ireland protected its fisheries and our fisherfolk and told the EU to go jump? I think so.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Up the Creek without a Paddle

For an island nation Ireland largely turns its back on the sea.

A case in point is the current crisis in the Swansea-Cork Ferry Company. They sold their only vessel, the 35 year old M.V. Superferry a few months ago and now they have no ship for their 2007 season.

If you ever travelled on the Superferry in the last few years or just saw it steaming out from Cork Harbour you would see how much it had deteriorated. Anyone with half a brain could see it needed replacing. The Cork-Swansea route is a tough one - across St. George's Channel and past the famous Mumbles, graveyard of ships.

The ferry itself was born of crisis. Back in the 1980s the B+I Line went bust and the Swansea-Cork route was no more. The Cork - South Wales link goes back to the mid 19th century with no less than five separate ships called Innisfallen until the B+I collapsed. So in the mid 1980s the local authorities (Cork City Council and Swansea City Council mainly) got together with the local port authorities and stevedores and set up the Swansea-Cork Ferry Company to reopen the link with South Wales.

Over the years the local authority / public involvement in the company was diluted and the privateers took over. Now their mismanagement leaves a ferry service without a ship and 30 people without a job. Many more downstream jobs are on the line if something urgent isn't done.

* Update: April 2007 - I am glad that a freight ship has finally been found to carry goods between Cork and Swansea. The m.v. Victoria went into service on the route in late March, but it does not carry domestic passenger traffic, only commercial traffic. At least it will provide a vital economic link once again, but we still don't know if the full passenger / freight service will ever be renewed. At this stage, I am not hopeful.

Welcome to the Old Blog Cabin

I must admit I know next to nothing about blogs. I've seen a few and found them interesting so I decided to take the plunge and create my own. So I created The Old Blog Cabin and put up a few posts - then I forgot about it for a few months. So now I'm back and am going to change things a bit.

If you're interested follow me in this journey and see where it leads.