Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reprieve for Valentia & Malin ?

Good news this morning as the government has announced that the existing coastguard radio stations at Valentia Island in Co. Kerry and Malin Head, Co. Donegal are to be retained while a new centre is being built in Dublin.

The government announced last year that Valentia and Malin were to close down after more than a century of operation and be replaced with a new station in Galway. The response from the coastal and marine community was one of shock and a campaign was quickly put together to save the two stations which have over the years helped many thousands of mariners in trouble and played a role in saving many lives.

Let us hope that this is a full reprieve for Valentia and Malin and that they will continue to be the eyes and ears of mariners for generations to come and that this isn't simply a face-saving exercise until after the next local elections from a government in retreat from hugely controversial budget measures and growing unpopularity.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stand up to the EU on fishery proposals

It is being reported today (13th Nov 2008) that the European Union is proposing a ban on all whitefish fisheries off Ireland's northwest coast. This comes just five months after fishermen right around the coast were forced to come out and blockade ports because their industry is dying through over-regulation from Brussels and overfishing from other EU and non-EU fleets in Irish waters.

It is quite clear now that EU doesn't give a damn about Irish fishermen and given their refusal to recognise our democratic rejection of the Lisbon Treaty they don't really care about Ireland at all.

Some wise people predicted back in the early 1970s that our fisheries would suffer through EU membership. They were laughed at back then but they were right. Our offshore waters have been pillaged for the last four decades by boats of every nation while Irish fishermen trying to make a living for themselves and their families and to keep their communities alive have been regulated to death. A plethora of agencies watch their every move, including the naval service who monitor them from Haulbowline and from the eight naval vessels which patrol our coast.

Last June when the fishermen were forced to go on strike they had the overwhelming support of the Irish people who of course rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a democratic vote on June 12th last. But of course it's as if that vote had never taken place as an arrogant government, taking instructions from European masters, is intent on rerunning that referendum to make sure we vote "the right way".

The Old Blog Cabin feels it is time for the Irish people as a whole to take a stand for a sovereign state making decisions on behalf Ireland. We should demand a return to a much larger exclusive fishing area for the Irish fleet and stop the harassment of Irish fishermen. It is clear from last weeks huge drug seizure off the Irish coast that there are more important tasks the Naval Service should concentrate on other than making life hell for local fishermen.

Yes there is a need for conservation of fish stocks but lets start by taking out the supertrawlers and giving priority to our own fishermen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Busy at the Old Blog Cabin

Sorry for the lack of posts on the Old Blog Cabin but I've been busy for the last while and haven't had time to follow up on articles. I haven't heard or seen much on the news front since I haven't had the time to look but one piece of good news I did see was that the Irish government is about to advertise for tenders to raise the national sail-training vessel Asgard II which sank in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France on September 11th last.

Investigations into the present condition of Asgard have proved to be encouraging and the vessel is said to be "largely intact" following a survey by Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) recently. Let's hope the Asgard will rise again.

The Amphicar - an idea lost in time

I spotted this on this morning and couldn't help posting it. What a great idea! I remember seeing one of these or a similar model around West Cork many years ago when I was a small boy and fascinated with the idea of car that could go on water. I'm sure they can't have been too safe though.

Still it would be very useful for a Sunday afternoon's boating - no bother with trailers, winches, mooring places or winter storage - just drive off to work with it every day and take a dip at weekends!

This one was photographed at the start of hte Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race in 1971 and is from the collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Australia.

According to the entry: - "The Amphicar was a German vehicle manufactured 1960-1968. It was the first commercially produced amphibious car and used a Triumph Herald engine over the rear axle to power the wheels and twin propellors. In the water, the front wheels acted as rudders. The body was steel.

From the collections of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Information about photographic collections of the State Library of New South Wales

Persistent url:

Uploaded by State Library

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Onedin Line

For no other reason than indulging in a bit of nostaliga I am posting this Youtube video from the very first episode of the Onedin Line, a television drama series from the 1970s which I remember fondly.

The Onedin Line was huge in the 1970s. The first episode was broadcast in Britain in 1971. I'm not sure when it was first broadcast on RTE (Irish television) but it can't have been too much later. It was also broadcast in Europe, the US and around the world and to this day has a dedicated following. The choice of Aram Katchachurian's theme from Spartacus was an inspired one for the theme music and the intro was a stunning combination of this theme and excellent aerial camrawork. Many people still refer to Spartacus as the "Onedin Line theme"

The series centred on the lives of two brothers James and Robert Onedin, their families and some of the crew of James Onedin's ships. Their father, whom we don't meet, leaves the older brother Robert the family business, a small ship's chandlers shop in Liverpool, while the younger brother James has already gone to sea but is left virtually penniless. Nevertheless he works his way up and marries the daughter of a schooner owner to get his hands on the ship. Eventually he ends up the wealthier of the two brothers, with a fleet of ships. Also featuring in the series are Robert & James' sister Elizabeth and the love interests of the three. Peter Gilmore played James Onedin, while Brian Rawlinson played Robert and Jessica Benton was the strong-willed Elizabeth. My favourite character of the series was the irrepresible Mr. Baines (later Captain Baines), played by Howard Lang with such ease that it seemed like he had been at sea all his life.
The ship shown in the opening credits is the Christian Radich, a full-rigged Norwegian sail training vessel. Several other vessels were also used to double for James Onedin's growing fleet.

I am open to correction on this, but I think the Christian Radich came to Kinsale in the late 1970s while it was taking part in some filming off the south coast of Ireland.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

QE2 arrives in Cobh for farewell visit

The famed cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2 has arrived in Cobh this morning on one of the final legs of her farewell voyage after 40 years of service.

The huge liner reached Roches Point at the mouth of Cork Harbour at around 1.30pm and was escorted in slowly by four or five tugboats and a flotilla of boats.

There was even the unusual sight of one of the Dublin Port pilot boats joining the local pilot boat fleet for the occasion.

Here are some photos of the arrival, taken from Cobh town.

Are these bullets yours? - Lusitania Ammo owners sought

Nearly 100 years after she was torpedoed and sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale in Southern Ireland the passenger liner Lusitania continues to make the news.

There was an intriguing story in this morning's Irish Times newspaper which revealed that the Irish Receiver of Wrecks may shortly post advertisements in the country's newspapers to determine who owns a quantity of .303 bullet cartridges which have been discovered at the wreck site.

Now it has long been speculated that there may have been munitions on board the Lusitania - the question was even raised while World War 1 was still claiming millions of lives and has continued to cause controversy since. The British passenger vessel was on its way from Liverpool to New York when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine Unterseeboot 20 (U-2) some 12 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale on 7th May 1915 with the tragic loss of 1,198 lives. Only a few hundred bodies were removed from the water, over 100 of them are buried at the Old Church Cemetery in Cobh (then known as Queenstown) and the memory of the event is still indelibly written into the town's history.

Whether the Lusitania carried ammunition is no longer in any doubt. More than 15,000 rounds of -303 ammunition has been discoverd over the past few years by divers working for the wreck's owner Greg Bemis. The Cork Sub-Aqua Club have also located ammunition while diving there under licence. Of course this does not explain the mysterious second explosion which is said to have taken place after the torpedo struck and which is believed to have been responsible for the catastrophic loss of the ship. It is still in dispute how this happened although world renowned author and ship surveyor Robert Ballard (who discovered the wreck of the Titanic, another ship with a Cobh connection) believes it was caused by coal dust exploding. Perhaps we shall never really know.

The wreck of the Lusitania itself is owned by Greg Bemis an American who spent many years going through the courts to prove his claim to the wreck. However the Irish government declared the wreck a Heritage Site under the National Monuments Act and it cannot be dived without express government expression (it's a dangerous diving site anyway at approx 100 metres).

According to the Irish Times a sample of Remington -303 cartridges has been handed over to the Receiver of Wrecks in Cork by agents of Mr. Bemis. The Irish Customs service are now assessing the "material" and if ownership is not ascertained in 12 months then cartridges become property of the salvor.

Will the owners of the ammunition please step forward?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Here's one we missed....

In posting the piece about the arrival in Cork Port of the Swedish sail-training vessel Gunilla which is due at Cork's J.J. Horgan Quay tomorrow, I completely missed another sail training vessel which is currently at that location. The Stavros S. Niarchos is a 493 tonne brig which was completed in January 2000. When seeing the name I assumed she was a Greek vessel given the name until I noticed the Union Jack on the stern. She is actually owned by the Tall Ships Youth Trust of the United Kingdom.

Then I looked at the Tall Ships Youth Trust website ( and noticed that the Stavros S. Niarchos' sister-ship the Prince William is for sale. I immediately thought it might make a good replacement for the recently lost Asgard II but to be honest I just don't know enough about this type of vessel to know if such a ship would be suitable for purpose. But I suppose it would be no harm for the Irish government and the Coiste an Asgard to take a look....

The Stavros S. Niarchos (named after a Greek shipping magnate) leaves Cork at 11am tomorrow (Monday, 29/9/08)
more info on the Tall Ships Youth Trust website:-

Thursday, September 25, 2008

QE2 in Cobh - 2nd October (clarification)

The Old Blog Cabin has been contacted by a number of people querying the arrival date of the cruise ship QE2 in Cobh. I can now confirm definitively that it will arrive in the port on Thursday, 2nd October 2008 at approximately 07.00hrs (local time).

I apologise profusely for the error. I gleaned the original wrong information from a website which had also incorrectly stated that the ship would be visiting Dublin.

The ship's full itinerary and those of its sister ships can be found on the official Cunard Line website at

Once again sorry for misleading people.

Here is the itinerary from Cunard's website:-

Sept 30 - Southampton, England - depart 5.00pm

October 1st - Cherbourg, France - 8.00am - 6.00pm

October 2nd - Cobh, Ireland - 9.00am - 6.00pm

October 3rd - Liverpool, England 12.00pm - 10.00pm

October 4th - Belfast, Ireland 12.30pm - 11.00pm

October 5th - Glasgow, Scotland - 12.00pm -10.00pm

October 6th - Cruising the North Sea

October 7th - Edinburgh, Scotland - 8.00am-6.00pm

October 8th - Newcastle, England - 10.30am-10pm.

October 10th - arrive back Southampton, England

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Swedish Sail Training vessel bound for Cork Port

Sweden's largest sail training vessel, the Gunilla is due in Cork next Monday (29th September) for a short visit. Coming so soon after the sad loss of Ireland's own sail training vessel the Asgard II in the Bay of Biscay it will be nice to see a great sailing ship in port again, although not the same no doubt for those who served on Asgard. The Gunilla, 49 metres long and 380, she is a square sailed ship so she looks more like the Jeanie Johnson than the Asgard (see photo). Gunilla was built in Sweden in 1940 and became a sail-training barque in 1997. She was actually originally a motor yacht and is now operated by Den Seglande Gymnasieskolan (the Sailing Upper-Secondary School).

Gunilla will berth at Horgan's Quay near Cork City centre (opposite Jury's Inn and the Custom House).

(Photo by drewhound on

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cobh Harbour liner visit season nearing end

With the nights becoming longer in this part of the world the most successful season of liner visits to Cork Port for 2008 is gradually drawing to a close with the final scheduled visit being that of the Thomsen Celebration on October 24th. Before that there are still some interesting visits with the highlight being the last ever visit to Cork of the QE2 which will take place on Thursday, 2nd October.

The QE2 will tie up at the Deepwater Quay in Cobh around 9.00am local time and depart at 6pm. The old but still elegant ship will then sail for a final time to Dublin, Liverpool and Belfast before a final trip around the UK coast, a farewell voyage to New York and a journey through the Mediterranean before reaching its final destination in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on November 27th where she will be converted into a floating hotel.

The QE2 was the star of the show at the 1991 Tall Ships Race, not taking from the grace and beauty of the tall ships including our own late lamented Asgard II, but complimenting them. There are still many homes around the Cork Harbour area with large photos of the QE2 surrounded by smaller vessels and with tugboats cascading water over her from their powerful water jets. It is a picture that will endure.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 (to give it its full name) was launched in Clydebank from the yard of John Brown on 20th September 1967 and made her official maiden voyage to New York in May 1969. By 2002 she had logged 2,000,000 miles at sea. QE2 has now been superseded by the Queen Mary 2 (since 2004).

Harbour Pilots - a dangerous but vital job

You might remember back in July I wrote an article entitled "Harbour Pilots at Work" outlining the importance to any major port of a pilot service. ( I also mentioned that it was a tough and dangerous job. Regrettably that has proved to be all too true locally here in Cobh where a little over a week ago one of the Port of Cork's harbour pilots had a nasty fall in the course of his duty and received serious injuries. The man in question had to be stretchered off the pilot boat with the assistance of the local fire brigade.

The Old Blog Cabin wishes the man a speedy recovery.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Asgard: Inquiries begin as crew safe home in Ireland

Two separate inquiries have commenced into the sinking of the Irish sail-training vessel Asgard II which was lost early last Thursday morning off the French coast, thankfully with all hands saved.

The Irish government's Marine Casualty Investigation Board and its French counterpart are investigating the circumstances of the sinking while it is still unclear if a any attempt to raise the ship can be made. Reading between the lines of comments from various Irish government sources it would seem that a new build may be the most likely outcome since Asgard is in 90 metres of water and raising it would be very costly. A survey of its present condition is yet to be undertaken. Meanwhile there has been some speculation that Ireland's two other large tall-ships the Jeanie Johnston and the Dunbrody - both replica's built in the 1990s - might have a temporary role to fulfill in sail training for the Coiste an Asgard, the body which was responsible for the Asgard and its sail-training programme.

The five permanent crew and 20 trainees arrived back in Dublin last night (Friday) after their ordeal and a short stay on the French island of Bell-Ile where they were taken after rescue.

Some relevant links:

Marine Casualty Investigation Boad - (nothing on Asgard yet)

Coiste an Asgard:

and the other Irish tall-ships:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Asgard II sinks in the Bay of Biscay - Update

It has been reported this morning (10/09/2008) that the Irish sail training ship Asgard II has now sunk in Bay of Biscay after taking in water and sending out a distress call. The crew were brought to safety earlier this morning..

According to RTÉ News the sailing vessel went down at 08.25 local time (7.25am Irish time) some 20 nautical miles from the French coast, south west of the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer.

The Asgard had been en route from the Cornish port of Falmouth to La Rochelle in France where it was due to undergo minor maintenance.
The alarm was raised and the distress signal was picked up by the UK Marine Coastguard at Kinloss in Scotland.

It has been reported that the 5 crew and 20 trainees (most of them Irish) were rescued by a French naval ship and taken to Belle-Île-en-Mer off the French coast where they are safe.

Most Cork people will remember the Asgard II best from the Tall Ships Race of 1991 but she has been a regular visitor to the port since she went into service after completion in 1981. It was at the time of the Tall Ships race that the Cork singer / songwriter Jimmy Crowley wrote the song "My Love is a Tall Ship" dedicated to the Asgard.

The name "Asgard" resonates through Irish history. The original Asgard, owned by Erskine Childers Snr, was used in the Howth gun-running incident of 1914 in which German guns were imported into Ireland for use in the uprising which eventually took place in 1916. The first Asgard (from the Norse name for the "home of the gods") sailed to Hamburg with Childers, his wife Mary and two others to to collect the guns which were landed in Howth in July 1914. Childers was later executed during the Irish Civil War in 1922. His son Erskine Jr. was to go on to become President of Ireland.

In 1968 the Asgard I was bought by the Irish government who established the Coiste an Asgard as a new sail-training authority and the ship was used for training young people in navigation and seamanship until it was retired and replaced by Asgard II. The first Asgard is now being restored but it is unlikely it will ever take to sea again.

Asgard II, a 106 foot brigantine, was built by Tyrell's Boatyard of Arklow, County Wicklow, under the personal supervision of designer, the late Jack Tyrell.

The loss of the Asgard is a huge blow to Ireland, not just because of her importance in sail-training but as a symbol of this country and the good work she has done in promoting tourism she has also been involved in work with a social element along with involvement in research and environment.

It is of course very good news that the crew of Asgard II are safe. We still don't know if there is any possiblity of raising the vessel. That will, no doubt emerge in time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

More talks, still no ferry - could "Yellow Pack" be on the cards?

The clock contines ticking as to whether we will have a passenger / freight ferry between Cork and Swansea next year as talks and tentative negotiations begin. Today's newspapers are reporting that the Port of Cork and Associated British Ports have agreed an incentive package to encourage an operator to sign up for the route which has been without a service for two years now.

There is no specific information as to what type of incentives would be on offer but much is made of the additional journey for freight through other routes and even the increased carbon dioxide levels due to the extra road freight is under scrutiny. A Port of Cork source is quoted in today's Irish Examiner as say that around 10,000 units (containers) a year were transported by the previous operator Swansea-Cork Ferries.

The Old Blog Cabin has strongly supported the return of a service on this route but we would not favour a "yellow pack" operator. It is not so long since more than 500 jobs were slashed by Irish Ferries who replaced unionised workers with low-paid migrant workers from Eastern Europe who had to settle for lesser pay and minimal conditions of employment due to EU law which facilitates this and which is even strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty which the Irish government and EU want to bring in by the back door having been democratically rejected by the Irish people in the June 12th referendum. It would be disingenuous of the Old Blog Cabin to support the International Transport Federation's campaign on "flags of convenience" and not take a stand on the cheap labour route for any ferry on the Cork-Swansea route. Once again we call for the local authorities in conjunction with government to take over the route themselves.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New Irish ships should fly the Irish flag

There was an interesting letter in yesterday's Irish Examiner (5th Sept 2008) from a retired inspector of the International Transport Federation, Mr. Tony Ayton, once again highlighting the scandal of "Flags of Convenience", i.e. ships owned in one country but operating from another where tax, labour and safety regulations are more relaxed. I have highlighted this scandal in previous entries on The Old Blog Cabin.

Mr Ayton in his letter welcomed the fact that seven Irish based shipping companies were investing in new or second hand vessels this year, with the benefit of Irish government concessions. Some 21 such vessels are to be purchased this year with another 27 over the next two years. However the former ITF inspector also expressed his hope, rather than expectectation, that the ships would be registered in this country.

To quote Mr. Ayton: "I fear a lot of them will end up just like many beneficially-owned Irish ships do today operating under the notorious flag of convenience system.

This is a system where shipowners are allowed to register and flag their ships in countries that, in exchange for the registration fees, offer a minimum of laws and regulations that have to be applied and which take little or no interest in how the crews of these ships are treated. Consequently, a large proportion of the jobs that this investment will create could be at exploitative wage rates and miserable working conditions".

In January of this year the Irish government, through Minister Noel Dempsey, met with the International Transport Federation and assured them of the government's determination to do something about Flags of Convenience. Let us hope that they will live up to this promise and ensure that these new ships will comply with the best standards in safety and labour law and pay the proper rate for the job to their crews. Otherwise Mr. Dempsey's assurances will have been nothing more than another bunch of empty promises

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Future of Spike Island

A well attended public seminar took place in the harbour town of Cobh yesterday (30/08/08) to discuss the future of historic Spike Island in Cork Harbour which has at various times over the past 1,500 years served as a monastic settlement, Viking base, military fortification, convict base, emmigrant centre, famine home and graveyard, naval base and juvenile detention centre.

Organised by Cork County Council and Spike Island Heritage Committee to coincide with Heritage Week 2008, the meeting was addressed by a wide variety of speakers dealing with different aspects of the island's past and proposed future. There was also a photographic exhibition of life on Spike Island over the past century or so.

Local historian, heritage tour operator and chairman of the Spike Island Heritage Commmittee Michael Martin spoke on the history of the island since at least the 6th century; archaeologist Dan Noonan spoke on the initial findings of archaelogical inspection of various sites on the island; marine archaeologist Connie Kelleher described her inspection of various marine wrecks in the area and raised the possibility of the island someday housing a national maritime museum of world standards, tourism consultant Frank Donaldson spoke about another of the Irish Treaty ports, the military emplacements at Lonehort on Bere Island in West Cork; John Hennessy of the Great Island Historical Society spoke about island life on Spike in the 1940s and 1950s, Cobh Tourism chairman Hendrik Verwey dealt with future proposals and possibilities for Spike while Edward Buckley of Great Island Historical Society gave an interesting lecture about Ogham writing (Ireland's ancient Celtic alphabet) and the importance of the Irish language to this country. A number of local politicians and public figures also attended and there were several contributions from the floor (including yours truly).

It was encouraging to see a large attendance at the seminar on a Saturday afternoon in August and shows there is huge interest in local history and heritage and people in Cobh and the harbour area are genuinely interested in the future of such places as Spike Island.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bits & Pieces

It's been a few weeks since the Old Blog Cabin was updated so I will summarise this posting.

During the week it emerged that the Port of Cork is now looking again at the option of Marino Point near Cobh as the location of the new container terminal for the port. There seemed to be a marked reluctance by the port authority to look at this site when they were initially looking for a location for the container terminal which had outgrown its Tivoli site near Cork city. The former Irish Fertiliser Industries (IFI) site which already has a natural deepwater basin came on the market after IFI was closed down some years ago and could have been bought at the time. To buy it now would cost a lot more. Ringaskiddy is not completely gone as an option but the lack of a rail link may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. We will watch for further developments with interests.

There are a number of cruise liners coming to Cork Port over the next week or so. Le Diamant is currently at Cork's North Custom House Quay while Century is due in Cobh in the early hours of tomorrow morning to be followed by the enormous Independence of the Seas making her third visit to Cobh on Saturday while Artemis visits the following Friday, 29th August.

On a sad note I would like to pay tribute to my friend Denis O'Connor who died suddenly last Friday. Denis was a docker at the ferry terminal at Ringaskiddy and a leading trade union representative in SIPTU. He was also a member of the Workers' Party and many other organisations. He had a strong interest in all things maritime and was a regular visitor to this blog. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New Harbours Bill raises questions

The Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey TD today (5th August 2008) announced a new Harbours Bill that will change the nature of our major port companies, including the Port of Cork, and possibly not for the better.

Up to a decade or so ago the ports were entirely run and owned by the state with boards directly responsible to the Minister. Then they became commercial semi-state, i.e. they became private limited companies with a commercial mandate but still wholly state owned. Many saw this as the first tentative steps towards privatisation. As with other state companies they had been put at arms length from the government and as private companies it would be possible, through further legislation, to decouple them completely and sell them off eventually. Now it seems this privatisation strategy is going a step further with a significant reduction in the number of local authority representatives (in Cork Port company it will go down from five to just one). This will also mean a serious drop in the level of accountability of the harbour boards. It's not quite privatisation yet, but it comes becomes a greater possibility in the medium term.

The new Bill, if passed, would also allow port companies to invest outside their current harbour limits. Another proposal is to extend the harbour limits of a number of port companies to facilitate developments outside existing harbours. Primarily this is to allow Drogheda Port Company in County Louth to develop a new port at Bremore near Balbriggan in north County Dublin. What implications this might have for the Port of Cork vis a vis the ongoing row over the new container terminal remains to be seen.

Obviously one cannot judge a major piece of legislation based only on a Ministerial press release, but I, for one, would have concerns that this is a further step towards privatisation of our ports and if that happens local areas will lose whatever control they have over the development and planning of those ports.

No doubt there are people who will argue that this bill would give the Port of Cork (and the other ports in the Irish Republic) a chance to develop and to invest but there are portends of more negative possibilities. Many people who work in Cork port will remember the Liverpool Dockers Strike of 1995 when the entire workforce of that port was sacked and the port privatised. Liverpool port is now owned by a consortium called the Peel Group which also owns John Lennon Airport, three other airports including Manchester, the Trafford Centre in Manchester and are also involved in wind generation. The company also has involvement in Glasgow port, Clydeport and the Manchester Ship Canal, etc, etc.

There have already been international buyouts of major US ports, could we now see ports like the Port of Cork being owned by multinational companies with no links or loyalty to the region, people, seafarers or port workers? Of course native business interests would also put the bottom line (money) before such considerations. For that reason this blog believes the government should retain ownership of our ports and that local elected representatives should continue to be represented on the port bodies to hold them to account.

The Old Blog Cabin will be looking at this government bill in more detail shortly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Harbour Pilots at work

Looking out at one of the Cork Harbour Pilots boarding a large ship in the dark last night I decided to write an article about this interesting, and sometimes dangerous job. It's a task that takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is essential to any modern shipping port. Under maritime regulations and local port rules, every ship over a certain size must take on a pilot when entering port. The pilot is a fully qualified ships' master who has special qualifications on pilotage and an intimate knowledge of the local port - he (or she) knows literally every rock and sandbank in the port, every twist in the river and every possible hazard to local shipping.

The Port of Cork has had pilots for centuries, starting with rowing boats and advancing to the present day with their two powerful pilot launches and sophisticated radar and ship location technology (AIS). Over the years the pilots have guided many famous ship's in and out of Cork Harbour including the ill-fated Titanic, on her infamous maiden voyage in April 1912. She was piloted safely from her moorings by Cobh pilot John Cotter. Alas the pilots also had their own tragedy in 1942 when five seafarers lost their lives when their pilot boat was caught under the propellors of the Irish Poplar. The five men who died were John Higgins, Frank Lloyd, Frank Powell, Patrick Wilshaw and William Duggan. They are commemorated by a monument near Cobh's old town hall. The memorial is in the form of a replica of the nearby Spit Bank lighthouse (see photo).

Without the harbour pilots the port of Cork would come to a standstill, yet in all weather they must board ships of all sizes and guide them safely to and from the port. The boarding of a ship from a pilot launch is a sight to behold, especially in bad weather, there is no funfair ride that could possibly compare as the pilots have to climb a rope ladder up the side of a moving ship while both ship and pilot boat are rocked by heavy seas and rise and fall into deep troughs and large waves. It's certainly not for the fainthearted!

Today the Cork Harbour Pilots are based at the pilot station in Cobh and have two modern pilot launches, the Gleánn Mór and the Sonia (the latter named after champion Cobh athlete Sonia O'Sullivan). In addition to radar they also have access to closed circuit television cameras which cover the entire harbour as far as Cork city quays and AIS (Automated Information System) which all ships must now carry and which gives the exact position, heading and other live information about the ship. I have included some video of the newest launch, the Gleánn Mór working in rough seas. Incidentally the Gleánn Mór is an Interceptor 42 (42ft long) specially designed as a pilot launch and built by Cobh based Safehaven Marine.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ferry Disappointing

It's now almost two years since the Swansea-Cork Ferry company announced that it could not locate a replacement ship for the mv Superferry II and we have been without a direct ferry link from Cork to the UK ever since. Several attempts have been made to restore the link but all have so far come to nought.

The affect the loss of this vital link has had on local tourism in the South West of Ireland is clear to see. It has also heavily hit the local economy with jobs lost in both tourism and industry as a result. We now approach the end of the 2008 season and we're still waiting for a new ship on the horizon for 2009. If you haven't already done so, please do sign the e-petition on the website via the link on the navigation bar on the left of this page and write to your local politicians, whether in Ireland or the UK.

On a more positive note there was news recently of a move to open a ferry link between Cork and Northern Spain with a Ro-Pax (Freight & Passenger) ship linking Cork with the port of Gijón (pictured) in the province of Asturias which is well connected to the rest of Spain by motorway. So far it's only on paper but the Old Blog Cabin hopes that it will become a reality and not just a pipe-dream which the Swansea-Cork ferry appears to be. We live in hope.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cobh People's Regatta 2008

It's almost Regatta time again and this year's Cobh People's Regatta opens on Friday 8th August with a full programme of events over the weekend. (my apologies as I originally said it was the Bank Holiday weekend, in fact it is the following weekend 8-10th August).

There's a lot more to the Regatta weekend than rowing and sailing but the regatta, one of the oldest in Europe, has plenty to offer for all - plus some challenging boating skills trials.

the Regatta kicks off on Friday at 2.30pm with the Cobh Youth Busking Competition followed by the "Streets of Cobh" Race led by Ballymore Cobh Athletic Club and the ever-popular Wheelbarrow Race from the Main Stage in front of the Cobh GPO to the Top of the Hill - and if you're not familiar with that part of Cobh it is some climb, more of a mountain than a hill.

There will be plenty of live bands playing over the weekend, not forgetting the all-important racing events and the Festival Queen competition.

The full programme of races and other events can be found on the regatta's website at The official Regatta programme in printed form is available in local shops and other retail outlets at €2.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beautiful Cobh's Toxic Slag Heap

Since the news broke last week the media has been full of stories about the toxic slag heap on and beside the former Irish Steel / Irish Ispat site on Haulbowline - a few hundred metres from the town of Cobh and close to many other harbour towns and villages.

Photo shows former furnace hall which was demolished in 2006 causing a huge dust cloud which spread over much of Cobh and the lower harbour. Below is a video of the demolition

It has emerged that a company employed to remove the slag heap has been sacked by the government and has leaked a report which shows that the situation is much worse than thought and there are dangerous levels of lethal toxins such as Chromium 6 and mercury on the site. It was not news the government wanted to hear and now the lawyers are being called in to sort out the legal wrangle. Meanwhile the people of the lower harbour and the 1,300 members of the Irish Naval Service continue to live, work and play beside the site.

On July 1st local resident's and environmental group's representatives met with the Minister for the Environment John Gormley in his Dublin office. The usual press releases were issued by both sides, the most embellished being that of the Minister which was aimed at allaying people's concerns and dampening down the furore. It's called public relations and people like John Gormley are good at it.

The furore should not end, the anger of the people of Cobh and the lower harbour needs to become even more obvious. We want action, we want answers and we want them now!

Tonight even more bad news, the Evening Echo (02/07/08) reports that statistics from the National Cancer Registry show that cancer levels in the town of Cobh are 44% above the national average. We didn't need a statistical analysis to tell us that is very high, but the extent of it is a shock. Higher cancer rates are also found in Carrigaline, Ringaskiddy and Passage/Monkstown - but Cobh Urban is by far the worst.

Irish Steel - or Irish Ispat as it became known when it was sold off for the princely sum of one old pound (IR£1) by the Fine Gael / Labour / Democratic Left government - it finally closed in 2001 - that was seven years ago. High levels of toxicity at the site were first reported ten years before that in 1991. This is half way through 2008 and it's still there. Deadly carcinogens in pools, on the ground on Haulbowline and in the air we breath - and of course also leaching into the waters of Cork Harbour where many of us swim, paddle or travel by boat for work or pleasure.

What has occurred in Haulbowline is a crime. Criminal negligence has put the lives of Irish Steel workers, clean-up contract workers, naval service, port workers and the local people at serious risk. There was also a criminal attempt to hide the extent of the situation. Will we see anyone go to jail? - Highly unlikely. Will any senior official or government minister be disciplined ? - Very unlikely. Will any of those who have suffered death or serious illness as a result of thes toxins (or their families) ever receive compensation? Don't hold your breath. Will the site ever be properly cleared? We will wait and see - but let's not wait too long. In fact we now need to ensure that the issue stays on the national agenda. Don't be silent!

Photo shows Le Ciara passing the slag heap on Haulbowline

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Support the Fishermen!

The Old Blog Cabin today salutes the Irish fishermen (and women) who will strike for their rights in harbours around the Irish coast and in Dáil Éireann.

Fishing communities in this country have been devastated in recent years with a combination of EU rules, quotas and harassment by the authorities, while our territorial waters have been almost emptied of their bounty. The reason, our fisheries were opened to all comers by a shoddy deal with the European Union and Irish fishermen have no chance of competing with their well-financed EU (and non-EU) counterparts who have almost fished out Irish waters.

On top of that the fishermen have to deal with fuel prices rising out of all proportion to reality due to the US financial crisis. It seems strange that the price of a commodity that comes out of a hole in the ground can sky-rocket because Wall Street gets a cold. With the price of oil heading inexorably towards the outrageous price of $2.00 a barrel fishermen are right to be angry.

The Old Blog Cabin wholeheartedly supports the fishermen and their families because they are the backbone of many coastal communities. It also gives one more reason to say No to the new European Constitution (aka the Lisbon Treaty) which will further strengthen the EUs grip on our country.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

QE2 to include Cobh on its farewell voyage

It's quite a few years since the QE2 was here for the fantastic display of sail that was the Tall Ships Race of 1991 when Cork Harbour was host to hundreds of sailing vessels, including the world's biggest a the time. Later this year, on October 1st to be more precise, the QE2 will be back in Cobh for its final visit as part of its farewell tour. After that the great ship will do a few more transatlantic trips before departing for Dubai where it will become a floating hotel. Most of the cabins are already booked out for the final voyages.

Great weekend of song in Cobh

Along with thousands of others I enjoyed a great weekend of song and boats in Cobh the weekend just gone. I didn't get to all the events but the free sessions in the Roaring Donkey (Sunday) and the Hi-Chapperal (Bank Holiday Monday) were fabulous. The atmosphere was electric as groups from Brittany, Poland and England joined with local performers for a mix of sea shanties and traditional music from the three countries and of course Ireland. Some photos here:-

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rolling home to Cobh for song weekend

The Cobh Maritime Song Festival kicked off last night with a concert in the Sirius Arts Centre and the festivities continue throughout the weekend, along with the South of Ireland Pipe Band festival, the Farmer's Market, etc.

I didn't get down last night for the opening, but no doubt I'll sample the music and atmosphere over the next few days.

The video above is of the French group Nordet who will be performing in Cobh over the weekend. (see the festival website at for further details).

Below are the lads from Perły i Łotry of Poland singing "The Boys of Killybegs" at a Shanty festival in Langesund, Norway in 2006. By the way Perły i Łotry means "Pearls and Rascals".

It should be a great weekend in Cobh!

Some news on ferry front, but not this year...

I got an interesting e-mail from the Save the Swansea-Cork Ferry campaign yesterday. Apparently the South West almost secured a ship which would have allowed for the restoration of the link between Cork and South Wales, but were just beaten to it by a Russian ferry operator. While this is disappointing, it does at least show that people are trying to do something about the service.

There's more details from the campaign's website at

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cobh Maritime Song Festival 2008

It's that time of year again and the Cobh Maritime Song Festival 2008 is fast approaching.

This year's festival takes place on 30th and 31st May and June 1st and promises to be bigger than ever with headline acts including Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Patrick Street, Martin Collins and Jimmy Mageean, Nordet from France, Perły i Łotry from Poland, Fore 'n Aft from England and the Johnson Girls from England.

The weekend will also feature the Ocean to City (boat) Race on Saturday and the South of Ireland Pipe Band Competion in the town centre on Sunday, 1st June.

More details of the festival are available on the Cobh Maritime Song Festival website at

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Appalling conditions on ship docked at Ringaskiddy

Photo Alf van Beem via

Conditions onboard a bulk cargo ship which docked at Ringaskiddy deepwater port in Cork Harbour this morning (10/05/08) are nothing short of appalling. The 170 metre long Lady Chiara (IMO Registration No. 8406327) is reportedly carrying a cargo of molasses but she is registered as an oil and chemical tanker. Molasses is a food product derived from sugar cane and is usually used here in animal feeds.

Reports on today's 1pm news on RTE Radio 1 stated that some of the ships crew had called for assistance from trade unionists which led to a visit by the Irish agent for the International Maritime Federation, Mr. Ken Fleming. It is said that some of the crew's meagre food store is more than a year out of date and and more of it is stinking and rotting while general conditions on board are extremely bad. We hope to have more information soon.

This once again highlights our call for action by the Irish government and European Union on "Flags of Convenience" ships. Lady Chiara is registered in Liberia, which has long been recognised as a Flag of Convenience country.

Cork Harbour Integrated Management Strategy

Yesterday saw the launch in Cobh of the much-vaunted Cork Harbour Integrated Management Strategy. The title is a bit of a mouthful and all it's short is the word "protection" after management and it would gain the acronym CHIMPS, but as it is CHIMS promises much. The question Cork Harbour residents and users are asking is, will it work?

The strategy is aimed at bringing together all the stakeholders in Cork Harbour together in a forum and planning the management and future of the harbour. According to the blurb on their press release, "Cork Harbour is a unique resource and presents very real management challenges associated with, for example, flooding, water quality, industrial expansion, environmental protection, marina development and recreational usage. This Strategy is based on a voluntary partnership between key management agencies and local stakeholders including Port of Cork, Irish Naval Service, Local Authorities, Government Departments, Chamber of Commerce, Failte Ireland, community development agencies and the IDA".

Now surely the most important stakeholders in Cork Harbour are the residents of the area and it is to be hoped that their views will be taken fully onboard and that regular public forums are available to them when the future of the harbour is being discussed. Obviously the Old Blog Cabin would like to see this strategy given a chance to prove that it is more than a glossy document and that it becomes meaningful to the residents of the Cork Harbour area. We shall see.

There is a website at where you can download the Cork Harbour Integrated Management Strategy for yourself.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Defrosting a 1 ton squid!

I know it may be the other side of the world from Ireland and Cork Harbour, but I couldn't help posting this story about a 1,089 pound (494kg) squid from Antarctica which is being defrosted live on a New Zealand based webcast.

The Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can grow up to 46 feet (14m) and is found only in the icy waters of Antarctica. The specimen in question was netted by fishermen who were fishing for the Patagonian Toothfish which is sold as Chilean sea bass. They stuck it in their freezer and brought it back to New Zealand where it was preserved by the National Museum who now plan to defrost it and examine it in detail before eventually preserving it permanently and putting it on display in a 1,800 gallon tank of formaldehyde. Highlights of the dissection will be shown on New Zealand television and the whole thing including shots from several different angles can be viewed on webcam from the National Museum of New Zealand's website at

If you like calamari (squid rings) don't, the animal has ammonia in it's system naturally and the rings would be the size of tractor tyres and I'll bet they'd be just as tough, especially after a year in the tank

Photo above is from the National Museum of New Zealand.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bring Back the Swansea Cork car ferry

The Old Blog Cabin is happy to lend its support to a new web-based campaign called Bring Back the Swansea Cork car ferry ( They have an online petition and I would urge everyone to sign it.

Being without a direct car-ferry link to Britain has seriously affected the south-west of Ireland's tourist industry and has led to significant job losses in the region, not just tourist jobs but maritime and industrial jobs too. Let's hope the people of Cork get behind this campaign and the people of Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

World's biggest cruise liner on way to Cobh

Next weekend (3/4th May 2008) will see the world's largest cruise liner the Independence of the Seas visit Cork Harbour on her maiden voyage and tens of thousands of people are expected to head to Cobh to see the giant ship.

The photo above shows her smaller sister ship Navigator of the Seas which still ranks among the world's largest cruise liners. The Navigator is seen here on a visit to Cobh in June 2007 which attracted huge crowds.

The statistics for Independence of the Seas are breath-taking. She has a total of 18 decks and carries 4,370 passengers along with a crew of 1,360. At 160,000 tonnes and 339m (1,112 feet) long this is an enormous ship by any standard and will present a major challenge to the whichever of the Cork port pilots who gets the job of bringing the ship from Roche's Point to its berth at the Deepwater Quay. The pilots have of course become used to handling large liners in the port and are eminently qualified for the job, but still it is no easy feat manouevering such a big ship in limited channel space.

No doubt thousands of photographs will be taken of the event and this author for one will be looking for a good perch for my camera.

Independence of the Seas is due in Cobh at 15:00hrs on Saturday, 3rd May and is due to sail at 18:00hrs on Sunday the 4th May.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cork ship dispute settled - problem still remains

Having been overseas for a short trip I arrived back in Cork to discover that a Cambodian registered ship mv Defender had been detained in Cork Port and was at the centre of a pay row with the International Transport Federation. I have highlighted the question of "Flags of Convenience" before and Cambodia is one such Flag of Convenience. The ship's crew hadn't been paid and were on strike. They were being supported in their action by Cork dockers and the ITF. The dispute has now been settled with four of the crew on their way home, but the problem of Flags of Convenience still remains.

For all the talk of the EU, it has done prescious little to protect the rights of seafarers affected by the Flag of Convenience issue. The Defender is owned by a company based in Latvia - an EU member state, but the ship's registry is in Cambodia - a FOC state. I for one will be voting NO to the Treaty of Lisbon in the forthcoming Irish referendum as the EU institutions are not looking after the rights of European seafarers. There are many other reasons of course for my No vote but workers rights have seriously fallen down the EU's priority list in recent years.

Another thing, in some recent coverage of the Defender debacle, reference was made to this being "the first stand taken by a local labour force in Ireland in support of seafarers" (RTE News). This is patently untrue and Irish dockers have supported foreign crews on many occasions when they were in dispute with their employers, not least the dockers of Cork Port who have an excellent record of solidarity towards their fellow workers, Irish or otherwise. Whether it was the striking British Miners in 1983, the Liverpool Dockers in the 1990s or Latvian seafarers in 2008, Cork dockers were never short of helping out and often put their hands in their own pocket to help out fellow workers.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Piracy on the High Seas

It may sound like something from the distant past but piracy at sea is still a problem in some waters, most notably off the north-east coast of Africa with regular attacks on vessels of all types, from busy freighters to luxury yachts.

Yesterday there was news of another attack with the seizure of a large French yacht off the coast of Somalia but in recent times piracy has become even more common. On February 1st of this year a Danish-owned tug, the Svitzer Korsakov was attacked and boarded by up to 20 heavily armed men, also off the Somalian coast. The crew were captured, including a 68 year old Irish engineer, Fred Parle. They were held for a total of 47 days and nearly all their personal possessions were taken by the pirates who had demanded a ransom for their safe return. It is not known whether that ransom was paid, but some newspapers reported that up to US$700,000 was paid over for the release of the crew.

Late last year a Korean freighter was taken over by pirates but was retaken by the crew after a deadly struggle which left several pirates dead and crew members injured.

Modern piracy is less romantic than the swashbuckling stuff we all learned in our youth. There are no parrots or gold doubloons but ransoms can be just as valuable any crock of gold. In fact modern piracy is deadly serious and no joking matter. It just goes to show that life on the sea can be dangerous and challenging.

Roald Amundsen storm video

Recently the Old Blog Cabin featured the story of the German sail training vessel Roald Amundsen which survived a major storm (Storm Johanna) off the south coast of Ireland, suffering the total loss of 11 of her sails. Johanna has been described by meteorologists here as being the worst storm of Winter 2007/208. This morning I spotted a video made by the crew which was on another maritime blog Sea Fever (). So here it is:-

The Roald Amundsen is currently in her home port of Eckernförde in the western Baltic.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Navigator of the Seas 04.06.07

This was the departure of the cruise liner Navigator of the Seas from Cobh last year. Her visit brought thousands of people to the harbour town and there was traffic chaos for a while. Next month, 3-4th May 2008, her even larger sister ship the Independence of the Seas arrives in Cobh on her maiden voyage. My advice to anyone coming for a look is get there early!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Irish government's Flag of Convenience charter

It is regrettable that the Irish Defence Forces have chartered a Flag of Convenience country registered cargo ship to carry its supplies to Chad where the Irish Army is currently taking part in a European Union mission. This morning mv Zeran (pictured right) is being loaded at Dublin's north quays with weapons, military equipment, food and supplies for the 70 or so Irish troops in Chad. The Zeran is owned by the Polish company Pol-Levant but is registered in Malta, a flag of convenience country (see for previous Old Blog Cabin article on Flags of Convenience).

Flags of Convenience ships are ones which fly a flag other than that of the country where the ships owners are based. A FOC country generally charges less for ships registration but also is inclined to operate lower standards in areas of regulation, safety, pay and conditions for seafarers and make it cheaper for the ships owners to run their fleet while of course it is the sailors and seafarers who suffer. FOC ships often have an undesirable safety and environmental record as less rigorous application of international standards is generally applied.

There was a time of course when Ireland had its own fleet through the Irish Shipping Company but then successive Irish governments have had a poor record on maritime issues.

It is regrettable that the the Irish government could not have chartered a ship from a non FOC country. It should be noted that as recently as January 17th 2008 the Irish transport Minister Noel Dempsey met with a representative of the International Transport Federation to discuss this very matter and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern decried the practice of using Flags of Convenience in the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) as recently as 5th March 2008.

It seems to be a case of saying one thing and doing another.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Roald Amundsen reaches Ostend

Glad to report that the brig Roald Amundsen has safely reached the Belgian port of Ostend this afternoon (Easter Sunday), docking at 14.30hrs local time (see previous stories). I have been following her progress on the German Sail-Training Association's webpage at http://http//

I'd also like to share with readers some of the shipping and maritime sites I have been enjoying recently. is a very interesting site for anyone interested in the sea and things maritime. It has more than half a million photographs posted by site users. It's free and can be found at

AIS, that's Automated Information Systems, is a relatively recent development. All ships must now carry a radio transponder which allows their position to be plotted by harbour authorities and other mariners. The system is quite cheap and you can buy your own AIS detector for a few hundred Euro and connect it to your PC allowing you to see real-time positions for ships in your vicinity. Linked up to the internet it becomes the equivalent of air-traffic control for ships. Luckily many internet sites are now offering a version of online AIS. One I discovered recently is - for a free sign-up you can see ships positions for all of northern Europe on your computer screen. The free version shows you an hour behind but if you sign up for the premium service, which is still very inexpensive, you can see the actual position of ships in every major harbour in northern Europe (and a few others) in real-time.

The Cork Harbour cruise liner season starts next week with the arrival of the first of more than 50 liners which will visit the port in 2008 - most of them docking at Cobh's cruise liner terminal at Deepwater Quay. The first arrival will be the Black Prince of the Fred Olsen line which will arrive next Sunday, 30th March around 07.30hrs. She and her sister ship the Black Watch have been regular visitors to Cobh over the last few years. The photo here is one I took of the Black Watch in 2006.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gute Reisen Roald Amundsen!

"Gute Reisen", the German equivalent of Bon Voyage or Slán Abhaile, is my message to the crew of the sail training ship Roald Amundsen as she sails towards Ostend, Belgium on her way home to Germany after surviving last week's severe weather off the southern coast of Ireland.

Unfortunately my camera was not to hand this lunchtime as Roald Amundsen passed the town of Cobh on it's way out to sea but it is to be hoped that they will have a much more pleasant journey than their trip here from Lisbon last week. While the weather will include winds of up to Force 6 tonight it will still be much less than the Hurricane force 12 they experienced 7 or 8 days ago. After a brief stay at Ostend, Roald Amundsen will soon be rolling home to her homeport of Eckernförde in Germany's Western Baltic, close to that country's border with Denmark.

We wish them a safe voyage.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nice to see the Pont Aven back again

The Brittany Ferries Cork-Roscoff service is back again after its Winter break and it was nice to see their flagship Pont Aven pass Cobh again this morning on its way to berth at Ringaskiddy.

No doubt passengers are glad that they escaped the severe weather we had earlier in the week but winds were still strong this morning with heavy rain as Pont Aven sailed by my window, looking well with her new paint job. The photo here is from 2006 though.

Unfortunately the much promised return of a ferry link between Cork and Wales has failed to materialise for a second year.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sail training ship in Cobh after hurricane

The German sail-training vessel Roald Amundsen is in the Irish port of Cobh after 11 of its 18 sails were ripped to shreds by hurricane force winds off the south coast of Ireland (10-12th March 2008). This morning crew members were working to replace the torn sails after several days of severe weather on a voyage from Lisbon, Portugal to Cobh, Ireland.

At one stage the ship's own instruments recorded gusts of 99 knots (114 miles per hour) and the damage to the little ship's sails was plain to see in Cobh this morning (Thursday 13/3/08).

Luckily none of the 41 strong crew, including 15 trainees were injured but the ship's captain Christian Delamotte is reported in the Irish Examiner newspaper today as saying it was the worst weather he had ever encountered in 30 years at sea. The 252 tonne brig Roald Amundsen has her home port at Eckernforde in Germany. She is due to leave Cobh for sea on Monday 17th March.

Below is a link to the ship's English language web page.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Huge fire at Haulbowline

In the second night of drama in Cork Harbour in the space of 72 hours there was a massive fire in a building at the Irish Naval Service headquarters on Haulbowline Island last night (Tuesday).

Several units of the Cork County Fire service from Carigaline and Crosshaven were joined by units from Cork city and a fire-fighting tug from Cobh in an attempt to control the fire which was fanned by gale force winds. The Cork City Fire Brigade's 'snorkel' extension platform tired to douse the flames at the top of the building but it was clearly out of control and the roof collapsed before 11pm.
The damaged building was under renovation and was being used by UCC for its Coastal marine research department while an upper floor was being converted for use by the naval service itself.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered in Cobh and other towns around the lower harbour and at one stage there was a traffic jam at the carpark in Cobh which directly overlooks Haulbowline. The fire is still burning as I write but has been brought under control. Luckily there were no injuries and naval service personnel were safe.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Storm drama in Cork Harbour

There was high drama at the Deepwater Basin in Ringaskiddy in Cork's lower harbour last night (9/3/2008) when two large ships broke their mooring lines and went adrift in winds gusting up to 65 knots (75 miles per hour).

At around 10.45pm the huge roll-on roll-off (RoRo) vehicle carrier Grande Scandinavia (see photo right) reported that it had broken all four of its mooring lines and was adrift inside the Deepwater Basin. The ship's master requested the assistance of a number of tugs as it is a very large vessel (181 metre / 594 feet long, displacing 52,500 tonnes). Cork Port Control at Cobh took charge of the situation and deployed a number of its own vessels and also called for the assistance of several private tugs and tenders to try and secure the ship. Within half an hour a second ship, the 81 metre, 3,000 tonne (266 ft) Cemvale, a cement carrier, reported to Cork Harbour Radio that it too had broken its moorings and was adrift. It's captain also sought asstance.

The ship apparently had its huge bow door open at the time of the incident and as a result was without forward power.

In total up to 10 tugs and service vessels were involved in the operation including both of Cork Port's pilot vessels, the Gleann Mór and Sonia; tugs Breedbank, Alex, Gerry O'Sullivan and Oysterbank; and mooring boats Sheila and Sally. Two injuries were reported on board the Grande Scandinavia, one crew member was injured in the initial incident and a second was injured when he took the full force of a snapping mooring line and had to be stretchered and brought ashore by the pilot vessel Sonia.

It is now reported that the Grande Scandinavia is fast (aground) on the mud bank and will require further assistance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Well said by Tom McSweeney!

I congratulate Tom McSweeney of RTÉs Seascapes programme for his forthright views of the run-down of the marine sector by successive Irish governments in this week's edition of the popular weekly radio programme for mariners.

The marine has truly been neglected by Irish governments since the foundation of the state. Nearly a century of independence has done nothing for the maritime community in Ireland but cause it to decline drastically to the point where it has become unsustainable. Many rural communities are literally dying because of this neglect.

In this weeks programme Tom highlighted the virtual disappearance of the Department of the Marine. Once a stand-alone government department with its own minister, responsibility for maritime matters is now spread over three departments. In additon most ministers and very many of the civil servants dealing with maritime matters have had any real empathy with coastal communities, let alone practical experience of living in a coastal community or working at sea.

The decision to close down or drastically downgrade the long-serving coast guard stations at Valentia Island in Co. Kerry and Malin Head in Co. Donegal is another aspect of this government's ignorance on maritime matters.

Seascapes remains one of the best programmes on RTÉ and the strains of Ronald Binge's classic theme music "Sailing By" is heard weekly in many coastal communities and on board boats and ships of all sizes.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rescue drama off Cork Coast

As I write the refrigerated cargo vessel m.v. Horncliff is on its way to Cork Harbour with a seriously injured captain and several injured crew members after being hit by a freak wave during a storm up to 400km off the South West coast of Ireland.

The Horncliff, which is carrying a cargo of bananas en route from Costa Rica to Dover, was hit by a huge wave around 21.00hrs GMT yesterday (01/02/08), resulting in its captain being seriously injured with suspected spinal injuries and internal bleeding. Two passengers were also injured but less seriously.

In addition between 60 and 90 refrigerated containers were swept into the sea off the west Cork coast and the Irish coastguard has issued a warning to all shipping in the area to procede with extreme caution.

A rescue helicopter from RMB Chivenor in Devon, England went to the scene, refuelling at Cork Airport en route, but was unable to winch the captain aboard because of the rough seas and pitching of the vessel which has a slight list. The ship is continuing its journey eastward and the latest information we have is that it will now divert to Cork Harbour.

The RAF helicopter is returning to the scene to assess the situation this morning but it is not yet known whether they will make another attempt to airlift the injured captain ashore or wait until the ship arrives in Cork.

There are 31 passengers and crew onboard the Horncliff. Many cargo ships continue to carry passengers.

* Update at 09.21 GMT Saturday 2nd February 2008 - it is now reported that the Horncliff will continue to Falmouth. A RAF rescue helicopter is at the scene and a paramedic has been winched onboard the ship to assess the situation. Depending on this assessment the injured captain may be airlifted to hospital in Truro, Cornwall.