Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas & New Year Greetings

Thanks to all the regular visitors and "fans" of the Old Blog Cabin for bearing with me during the last year or so of relative inactivity. I will try to post more often in the New Year.

I would like to wish all of you a peaceful and joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year. In particular for those of you who will be at sea or tied up in a port far from home over the festive season I wish you the traditional Beanachtaí na Nollaig (Christmas Greetings in the Irish language) and safe return home soon to friends and family no matter where they may be.

Finally if you'll be in Cobh or Cork Harbour over the Christmas / New Year season you'll find plenty to do in this link which I should have posted much sooner.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Liam Clancy - Home from the Sea

I'm posting this for no better reason than to pay tribute to the late, great Liam Clancy who died earlier this week. This is one of his most popular songs and one which all seafarers can identify with.

Liam Clancy (1935-2009). Born Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, died in Cork City. Ní bhéidh a leithéid aris ann.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cork's maritime past comes back with a bang

The City and County of Cork got a sharp reminder of its maritime heritage over the past week with the worst floods in living memory.

The people of Cork are no strangers to flooding, but the floods which began on Thursday 19th November were something different. Cork was not the only place affected. The floods extended over a large area of Ireland and our neighbouring island, but Cork was one of the most badly affected areas in Ireland.

Cork city is built on a marsh, known in Irish as Corcach mór na Mumhan, the Great Marsh of Munster. The city centre is a series of about six islands and lots of smaller ones which have been drained and channelled. The main street of the city, St. Patrick's Street, was once a channel of the River Lee and much of the city centre is barely above high tide mark. Other streets that were previously waterways include the South Mall, Emmet Place and Drawbridge Street. When a combination of heavy rain of the type we had last week conspires with high tides and high winds the city gets flooded. What we got last Thursday could be called "the Perfect Flood". Except for those affected by it, who would call it something different.

Over 400 years ago the English poet Edmund Spenser wrote about the nature of Cork city in his epic poem The Faerie Queen, "The spreading Lee, that like an island fayre, Encloseth Corke with its divided flood".

The picture above shows Washington Street (then known as George's Street) at the height of the great flood of 1853. The same flood partially washed away St. Patrick's Bridge, not long after its predecessor had been washed away completely by another flood. Thankfully that didn't happen in the 2009 floods, although two people perished in Britain, one of them a police officer swept away when a bridge collapsed.

It all goes to show that we cannot take the planet upon which we live and its environment for granted. There is an interrelationship between the environment and those things we build on it. If you divert water from one place it must re-emerge somewhere else. Global warming is a reality and it is a fact that some of the wettest (as well as some of the warmest) years this century have taken place within the last two decades.

There is no doubt that more and more money is going to have to be spent on flood protection over the next few years. In some countries it is far more severe with places such as Bangladesh in dire trouble and large scale moving of people and cities may have to take place (except the developing world is turning a blind eye).
In places like Cork we are likely to see even more floods and other unusual weather phenomena. We seriously need to get prepared for them.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ships of the Irish Marine Institute

The r.v. Celtic Voyager (rv stands for Research Vessel) has been around Cork Harbour and the south coast for the past few weeks as part of its research work for the Galway based Marine Institute.

The Celtic Voyager is the smaller of two research vessels owned and operated by the Marine Institute. These ships are involved in research and investigation into all aspects of the sea from marine life, fish stocks and the sea bed itself (e.g. seismic activity). As well as their work with the Marine Institute the vessels also work in conjunction with other vessels as part of an international research team.

The Celtic Voyager is 31.4 metres in length and 9 metres in breadth. The ship has three laboratories on board - a wet laboratory, a dry laboratory and a chemical laboratory. It is fitted with high-tech scientific equipment and can accommodate 6-8 scientists with a maximum endurance of 14 days.

The Celtic Explorer is a much larger vessel at 65.5 metres in length. It can accommodate 35 personnel including its team of 19 - 21 scientists. A special feature of this ship is that it is extremely quiet running and described as being "acoustically silent" to minimise fish avoidance (important when you're trying to study those fish).

You will find much more information on the Celtic Voyager, the Celtic Explorer and the work of the Marine Institute on their website

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grimaldi Line - Regular callers to Cork Harbour

This is the first of a series in which ships which are regular visitors to Cork Harbour will be highlighted to give the reader an idea of the trade which is taking place in our port.

The first to be highlighted is the Grimaldi Line which has several ships which regularly ply their way between Cork Harbour and the European mainland carrying cars, vans and trucks.

The Grimaldi Line is a large shipping company based in Naples, Italy and operates various types of shipping services including freight and passengers. They have been in the roll-on roll-off (RoRo) business for more than fifty years. The ships which visit Cork and dock at the Ringaskiddy RoRo terminal are of the Grande Ellade class which include the Grande Europa, Grande Ellade, Grande Mediterraneo, Grande Scandinavia and Grande Bretagna (photo shows the Grande Scandinavia berthed at Ringaskiddy). They are each 180 meters long and can carry up to 2,500 cars. Top speed is 20 knots and they have a gross metric tonnage of 51,174. Their Cork agents are Ocean & General Ltd. Grimaldi have had their direct link with Cork since 1998.
As I write the Grande Mediterrraneo is on her way to Cork having left the Portuguese port of Setubal before which she came through the Mediterranean from Pireaus in Greece.

Grimaldi Ferries operates throughout the Meditteranean and Adriatic serving Italy, Greece, Malta, Spain and Tunisia.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

No blogs at the Cabin, until now

Hardy visitors to the Old Blog Cabin may be forgiven for thinking I'd given up on the blog given it's two whole months since my last post was uploaded and there have been precious few updates of the site in the last five or six months. Well the blog has been on the rocks but not quite sunk and I've finally managed to put aside a few minutes to post an item here.

As always there's been a fair lot of activity around Cork Harbour in the interim, not least being the arrival finally of the ferry Julia which will go into service on the Cork-Swansea route next Spring, after it gets a refit. This is all thanks to the dedicated work put in by a group of people who just wouldn't take no for an answer after the scrapping of the route over 2 years ago by the previous operator Swansea Cork Ferries Ltd. Now we have the Fastnet Line and the Julia which is a fine ship which has been admired by thousands of people as she remains berthed at Horgan's Quay in Cork city. You can get more information about the Julia and the ferry, including booking and prices at the new Fastnet Line website at

There will be another welcome visitor to Cobh cruise liner terminal next Wednesday (21/10/09) in the form of the Queen Mary 2 which is due to arrive in Cobh around 10.15am. Unfortunately this will only be a short visit but I'm sure that despite the time of day on midweek there will be large crowds in Cobh to view what is arguably the world's most prestigious cruise ship.

I'm glad to report that AIS coverage for Cork Harbour is now available online free of charge in real time on the site AIS (Automatic Information Service) is now compulsory on all ships. It uses a radio signal to constantly transmit information about a ship's location, speed and direction as a safety measure. In most cases it also carries data on a ship's port of destination, tracking and on the dimensions of the ship itself. While this is a safety requirement to help avoid collisions, it is also a great tool for shorewatchers who can now find out about ship movements in their own area and indeed worldwide from their computer desktop. It can also be embedded into your blog or website and I will be doing this shortly on the Old Blog Cabin. You can now check on ship movements whether that ship is in Cork or Copenahen, Youghal or Yokohama (as long as the ship is in range of an AIS receiver attached to the Marine Traffic website.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back again

In my last post six weeks ago or more I apologised for my failure to update the blog for some time. Unfortunately it happened again and I have had less and less time available (and perhaps a lack of inspiration) to keep it going.

Quite a lot has happened in the meantime including the government's decision to transfer ownership of Spike Island to Cork County Council, paving the way for the historic fortifications and jail into a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately it happens at a time when the Irish economy is in very serious trouble so a question mark hangs over the project in terms of funding and is likely to remain there for some time.

The hosting of the Tall Ships Race 2009 by Belfast, not long after a highly successful hosting by our neighbouring port of Waterford once again highlights Cork's failure to attract this prestigious event back to Cork where it made its only visit almost 20 years ago in 1991.

New electricity pylons with overhanging wires and a proposal for a new bridge near the Marina in Cork mean that the city is not in a position to host the largest of the ships - but the question I would ask is Why doesn't Cobh or a combination of Cobh and other Lower Harbour locations make a bid for the race to come here sometime in the next few years? The larger ships could be accommodated at the Deepwater Quay in Cobh with the smaller ones going to Crosshaven, Monkstown and Passage West.

Finally for now I see that the Port of Cork company has finally got its own You Tube account with promotional and port related videos. Here is one:-

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Floating evangelists come to Cork

My apologies to all my regular readers (if there are any left) for my long absence over the past two months. I have been busy with other projects and neglected my maritime blogging. But now I'm back.

I was looking out my window yesterday looking over Cork Harbour when I spotted an unusual ship. It looked a bit small for a cruise liner of which many come to this port and while it was in good condition it wasn't the gleaming type of vessel you'd normally associate with that trade. It seemed more like a car ferry so my next thought was, has the Swansea-Cork replacement ferry finally arrived at last? Alas it was not for when the ship got nearer and I saw the name "Logos Hope" all hope receeded in that quarter. I quickly consulted an online shipping register and discovered that the Logos Hope is operated by a Christian group and travels around to different ports to spread the Gospel. She is in Cork until July 14th so presumably the evangelists will be in evidence around J.J. Horgan's Quay where she is berthed.

The ship has an onboard theatre which can seat up to 1,000 people at a time. I'm not sure whether they can expect to get crowds like that in Cork but apparently there is a demand for this kind of thing.

A former car ferry which previously operated between the German port of Travemünde and the Swedish port of Malmö she weighs in at 12,000 tonnes and currently flies the Faeroe Island's flag. She was built in 1973.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Horror ship due back in Cork

The Latvian owned, Cambodian registered cargo ship Defender is due back in Cork Harbour next week (6 May) less than a month after her departure after a lengthy stay during which crew members had to strike because of appalling conditions onboard and non-payment of wages for several months totalling over €80,000. The nine crew members on that occasion had to call in their union, the International Transport Federation which sought the arrest of the ship. During the dispute it emerged that there was not even enough food onboard ship to sustain the crew on her return voyage.

This is not of course the first time that this 40 year old vessel has been the subject of industrial action in Cork port. In 2008 a similar dispute broke out involving a different crew who were subjected to the same treatment by their Latvian bosses and only last January the Defender was detained in a British port for the same reason.

The Irish goverment has stated its desire to get tough on Flags of Convenience ships, that is ships registered in countries with little or no worker protection legislation, low wages and inadequate safety rules. Yet they allow ships like the Defender to re-enter our ports despite their appalling record.

The Old Blog Cabin calls on the Irish government to ban such ships from entering ports here (unless it is an emergency where lives are at stake). There is now urgent need to extend such legislation on an European Union wide basis.

We have seen countries take extraordinary measures to protect ships and their crews from piracy in recent times, but there is another type of piracy evident here where workers can be treated like slaves in dirty, dangerous and ancient hulks of ships while at the same time being denied their basic rights and conditions. The Defender is due at the privately owned Passage West dock next Wednesday.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Return of the liners

The Cobh cruise liner season opens again in the next few days with the return of Black Watch, now a regular visitor, to the cruise terminal on Deepwater Quay next Thursday morning at 8.30am. A week later it will be the turn of the Grand Princess and then the Jewel of the Seas will call on April 28th. Then on the following day, Wednesday 29th April will see the visit of the Tahitian Princess on the return leg of a world cruise that started in Fort Lauderdale, Floriday in mid-January and travelled via Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai and Rome and will have transitted both the Panama and Suez canals.

There was an interesting visitor earlier this week which I almost missed. The tall ship Tenacious overnighted at the Deepwater Quay. I spotted the name Tenacious in the list of port visitors but assumed wrongly that it was an ocean-going tug of the same name that was due rather than the yacht Tenacious which is the largest wooden ship of her type in the world at 49.85 metres (164 feet) in length. There are in fact almost a dozen ships using the name Tenacious, or variations of it, worldwide. It was also the name of the yacht which won (after time correction) the notorious Fastnet Race of 1979 (which I will return to later this year as its 30th anniversary occurs in August). That Tenacious was skippered by the US media mogul Ted Turner who was once married to actress Jane Fonda.

On a final note, today, Easter Sunday will see a ceremony in Cobh to mark the 97th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Cork Harbour was Titanic's last port of call on its fateful journey which ended in the tragic loss of 1517 people after it struck an iceberg on the night of 14th April 1912. A few days earlier some 123 passengers joined the ship from a tender which departed the White Star Line's terminal (now the main post office) on April 11th. This afternoon's ceremony will leave Lynch's Quay, Cobh (eastern end of town) and a parade led by a colour party from the O.N.E. will leave from the Clock Tower Gallery (Old Town Hall) travelling the short distance to the Titanic Memorial on Pearse Square (outside the BMC shop). There will be prayers, hymns from the Commodore Male Voice Choir and Cobh Confraternity band and a wreath laying ceremony followed by the reading of the names of the 79 passengers who had boarded the liner from Cobh and later perished in the North Atlantic. This year there will be a wreath laid by members of the Irish Lebanese Cultural Society in memory for those Lebanese who lost their lives in the disaster. The Mayor of Cobh Cllr. John Mulvihill Jnr. will later place a wreath in the sea to honour all the victims followed by a rendition of the Last Post and Reveille by a bugler.

Friday, March 27, 2009

20th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster

On Tuesday of this week an important anniversary went by almost unnoticed on this side of the globe at any rate. Friday, 24th March 1989 is a day that will never be forgotten by the fishing communities of Alaska and many places further afield. It was the day the Exxon Valdez went aground in Prince William Sound. A documentary was shown on television last night which revisited the awful devastation caused to wildlife and to the livelihoods of thousands of people.

It is estimated that around 10.8 million US gallons (9 million Imperial gallons or 40.9 million litres) poured into the sea when the Exxon Valdez went aground. This caused devastation on a scale never seen before and hopefully never again. Before the disaster the area was rich with a diverse spread of marine life and an important fishery for the local population.

One of the most appalling aspects of the disaster was the way in which the Exxon oil company, who were responsible for the disaster, used their expensively bought public relations to turn around the situation. They also exacerbated the damage by using large jets of boiling water to clean rocks and beaches. This had the effect of practically sterilizing the area and killing whatever tiny aquatic creatures and seaweed that remained.

Incredibly the Exxon Valdez is still in service and this brings me back to my pet subject - the outrage of Flags of Convenience. The Exxon Valdez is now known as the Dong Fang Ocean and carries metal ore rather than oil but the fact that this ship is still in service at all is very disturbing. After the disaster the ship was patched up and remained in service, undergoing a number of name changes along the way - you know the type - where Windscale becomes Sellafield or Long Kesh become HMP Maze. Well the Exxon Valdez is still plying the high seas under a flag of conveniencee - in this case Panama. Thankfully she is banned from European Union waters because she doesn't have a double hull - something only brought in after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

The Innisfallen sails again, hopefully.

Photo: mv Julia, hopefully soon to be the new Innisfallen.
Got another update via the Bring Back the Swansea Cork Ferry website and it seems that it's still all systems go for the return of the ferry link between Cork and the port of Swansea in Wales.

According to the latest bulletin from the group they have now received just under €3 Million in pledges, with €2.3 million of that already in the bank and are very hopeful of securing a deal to purchase the Julia, a Russian-owned ship which previously operated out of Finland. A co-operative is in the process of being formed and will be launched in mid-April according to the website. If all goes to plan and the deal on the Julia goes ahead she will be renamed m.v. Innisfallen - a historic name held previously by five ships which operated the Cork to South Wales route beginning in 1896. The company, interestingly is to be named the B+I Line, resurrecting the name of a company once owned by the Irish government and was itself a successor to the City of Cork Steampacket Company.

The Julia has a gross tonnage of 21699 and was launched in 1982. She is being sold by her owner Stella Naves Russia OY Ltd based in Finland. She was built by Weser Seebeckswerft of Bremerhaven, Germany and originally named MS Olau Britannia. The ship originally sailed on the Sheerness (UK) to Vlissingen (Netherlands) route.

I have fond memories of the last Innisfallen which sailed on the Cork Swansea route from 1968 to the late 1970s. I sailed on her around half a dozen times. I am just about old enough to remember the 4th Innisfallen which operated until around 1968 although I never sailed on her.

Let's keep all fingers and toes crossed and hope that the new Innisfallen and the Swansea-Cork route rises from the ashes very soon.
Photo Innisfallen (No.4) passing Carrigaloe on her outbound journey. Pic from Jack Phelan via Irish Ferries Enthusiasts website.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cobh Liner visits 2009

I have been looking at the provisional list of cruise liner visits due in Cobh in 2009 and there are some interesting ships which have not previously visited the port of Cork.

Once again this year there will be over 50 such port visits by some of the world's most luxurious cruise liners which only goes to show that not everyone is worried about the worldwide recession.

The Independence of the Seas will be back in port at the end of August while many "regulars" will be returning including the Jewel of the Seas, Black Watch, Delphin and Deutschland. Without doubt the highlight of the year must be the visit of the Queen Mary 2 which will take place in November. Althouth the QM2 is now over 5 years in service it will be her first visit to Ireland and will be in port on 21st October, just over 12 months after the farewell visit of her predecessor the Queen Elizabeth 2.

Among the other notable newcomers in 2009 will be the Prinsendam of the Holland America Line and Minerva II.

For a full list (provisional) of Cobh cruise liner visits for 2009 visit the Cobh Tourism website on

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rising Sea levels spell trouble for Ireland

Yet another report is warning of the threat of rising sea levels as icecaps melt at the North and South Poles due to global warning.

In this morning's Irish Examiner a Cork based expert has questioned the wisdom of the development of large scale housing in the city's dockland. Robert Devoy, Professor of Geography at University College Cork is a member of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was echoing the international warning given by learned scientists at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this week.

Professor Devoy has said that the cost of remedial engineering such as the construction of a barrage at the mouth of the River Lee would be extremely expensive and counselled against large scale residential projects in areas prone to flooding or which may suffer future flooding, such as Cork's docklands.

The IPCC are warning that the world's oceans could rise by 18 to 59 centimetres by the year 2100 and possibly sooner. If sea levels rise by 1 metre or more it could spell disaster for hundreds of millions of people living in coastal regions worldwide.

Cork City centre already has a long history of flooding dating from the city's early origins on a series of islands where the River Lee meets the tidal waters of Cork Harbour. These islands were reclaimed in the 17th and 18th century but we still receive regular reminders of their history with seasonal flooding in the flat city centre. Further downsteam there may be problems too with significant residential developments along the low-lying areas of the shoreline. Examples include Cobh, Monkstown, Rochestown and even Midleton.

Here is an interesting link to an interactive online map that shows some of the areas which would be worst affected. You can zoom right into any area on the planet for a more detailed view.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Horror ship subject of possible arrest warrant

At the end of April 2008 I covered the story of a Cambodian registered ship, the m.v. Defender, which was under arrest in the Port of Cork over the non-payment of crew's wages and general conditions onboard ship. It is deeply disappointing that another crew onboard the same ship is now in trouble due to the same type of problem.

The problem with "Flags of Convenience" has been highlighted on this blog on several occasions and I commend the actions of the International Transport Federation and their local officer Ken Fleming for prompt action in this case. The Defender is owned by a Latvian company named Forestry Shipping. The ship was launched in 1969 and has a gross tonnage of 1,600 tonnes.

The ship's crew have stated that they have not been paid for several months and that there is not enough food onboard for their return journey to Ukraine. Between them, nine crew members are owned almost €80,000. This is almost exactly the same circumstance that faced another crew less than 12 months ago when the High Court ordered the arrest of the vessel.

There is now a real fear that the company may simply abandon this old vessel and its crew in Cork. How is this possible?

The Irish government is on record as condemning the use of Flags of Convenience vessels but has so far failed to take action to deal with them. It is now high time for the use of Flags of Convenience to be outlawed on at least an EU and preferrably on a worldwide basis.

UPDATE 28/03/09 - the Defender (what an unfortunate name for a ship with a history like this) is still laid up at John Horgan Quay in Cork city. It appears most of the crew have gone home and there's little sign of life apart from a vehicle belonging to a security company parked on the quay from time to time. There has been silence on the matter from most local politicians and most of the media seems to have lost interest.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Antarctic explorer Forde to be honoured in his adopted home

Over the last decade or so much work has been done in reviving the memory of Ireland's arctic and antarctic explorers and names like Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean have become much more well known.

Cork has its own share of such intrepid explorers such as Kinsale's McCarthy brothers (Tim & Morty) and the present day Dr. Clare O'Leary but the one to honoured next week is Robert Forde, originally Moviddy near Bandon but who spent his last years in Cobh.

A memorial to Forde will be unveiled at the Promenade, Cobh next Saturday, 14th March at 2.30pm. The unveiling will be performed by Jim Wilson who has spearheaded the creation of a formal memorial to the Antarctic hero in his adopted home town.

Robert Forde was born in the rural parish of Moviddy near Bandon on August 29th 1875, son of George Forde and his wife Charity (née Payne). Robert joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 and eventually rose to the rank of Petty Officer First Class. In 1910 he joined with Tom Crean and others under the command of Captain Robert Falcon Scott to take part in the Terra Nova expedition (Terra Nova being the name of their ship). The expedition undertook an extensive survey of the Antarctic and in 1911 Forde and his companions examined the area around Ross Island and the Polar Plateau. An icy promontory was renamed Mount Forde in his honour. Unluckily, or fortunately as it turned out later, Forde suffered severe frostbite and was ordered home for treatment by Captain Scot. This meant he did not participate on the final and fatal attempt on the South Pole.

On his return home Forde found himself serving in the Royal Navy at the height of the First World War where he served on a number of ships. He survived the war and after demobilisation he returned to Cobh where he was to spend the rest of his life. Robert Forde died in March 1959 so next Saturday's unveiling of the monument in the Promenade will also mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rationalisation versus Progress

Two important pieces of news emerged in Cork Port in recent times. On a positive news it seems that there is now a strong possibility of the restoration of the Swansea-Cork ferry link this year as an initiative has been launched to raise €3 million from local businesses and indivduals, in conjunction with public bodies, to set up a ferry service on the old route.

A carrier has come forward who will step in if the €3m is raised and provide a service while a number of suitable vessels have also been identified. Given the public goodwill and the stated support of local businesses there is a good chance this will actually happen this year. Also positive is the news that the vessel will fly an Irish flag and presumably be subject to the same terms and conditions of any other vessel registered here.

The second development termed as "Rationalisation" is the news that agreement has been reached between the Port of Cork and dockers who are members of SIPTU's Cork No.5 branch which will see all 93 of the port's casual dockers made redundant. Personally I regard this as a retrograde step which will not only see almost 100 workers out of a job - many of them middle aged - but will see the end effectively of a trade unionised docks in Cork. For over 100 years the trade unions in Cork port have been strong and have fought hard for the rights of their members over the decades. They also played a part in the history of this city with a historic 1908 Cork Dock Strike and the Cork Harbour Soviet of 1919. Dockers too gave much assistance over the years to seafarers who fell foul of ship owners and were treated appallingly by their employers under Flags of Convenience. While I am sure the International Transport Federation will continue to keep a vigilant eye on the conditions of seafarers they will be without the eyes and ears of dockers and more importantly the solidarity of the unionised dockers if required.

The upper docks in Cork have fallen eerily quiet in recent times as the move to yuppify the old docklands continues.

It is the end of an era - and not a good development in my view.

Friday, January 30, 2009

High Speed Ferry - low speed rescue?

The incident involving a high-speed ferry en route from Stranraer, Scotland to Belfast, Ireland raises some interesting questions. The HSS Stena Voyager is a large high-speed catamaran fast ferry, one of a number of such vessels employed by Stena Line around the UK and Irish coasts. Yesterday (29/1/09) and shortly after the vessel had left Stranraer, a loud bang was heard and on investigation it was discovered that a 35 ton articulated lorry was hanging off the back of the vessel. This was a dramatic enough event which could potentially have destabilised the vessel but it is what happened later that raises questions for me.

According to staff quoted in today's Irish Times, the ship was quickly stabilised and the damage assessed. Luckily nobody was injured and it was clear that the vessel had not sustained major damage and was not in immediate danger. The Voyager returned to the port of Stranraer where it was unable to dock properly and allow its passengers to disembark by the normal ramp at the stern. The large lorry was still hanging there and would have to be removed by emergency services using a large crane. Meanwhile bad weather was setting in.

Since the ramp was not available it was decided to take passengers off using a cherry picker hoist operated by the local fire brigade. With the wind speed increasing it was necessary to remove the passengers one at a time and the entire operation took many hours, leaving some passengers stranded for up to 26 hours.

Now I'm no expert but I would have thought that if this was a conventional ship the obvious answer would be to lower the passengers in the starboard side lifeboats. The ship was in port at this time and the weather front hadn't yet set in. The big question for me is, what would have happened if the ship had been disabled at sea and unable to return to port? But of course the HSS is not a conventional ship - it's lifeboats are not hung from the side on davitts but are behind panels on the side of the vessel, presumably to improve it's aerodynamics and speed. I assume these lifeboats have been approved by the appropriate marine authorities, so why weren't they used? Perhaps it was deemed too dangerous to do this, but it would have been hardly more dangerous than removing people from a ship with a hydraulic hoist in high winds.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Port of Cork faces a challenging year

The container terminal at Tivoli, Cork.
The Port of Cork released its annual Chairman's statement yesterday (21/01/2009) amid growing clouds over the Irish and world economy. All in all the port did quite well in 2008 but there was a decline in container traffic and the loss of the Cork-Swansea ferry route continued to hit the region hard.

Throughput in the port for 2008 was 10.1 million tonnes, down slightly from its record 10.6 tonnes in 2007. The biggest decline was in container traffic, decreasing from 200,000 containers to 187,000 (T.E.U.s as they're called in the business - Twenty Foot Equivalent Units). The port company stresses the need for much greater capacity and a move downstream from the overcrowded Tivoli container terminal in Cork city.

The report also shows the strong reliance of the port on the oil and petroleum business, most of it associated with the Conoco Philips Refinery at Whitegate, formerly a state owned concern. Some 5.8 million tonnes of oil and oil products passed through the port in 2008, a decline of 4.5% on 2007.

On the positive side the port is continuing to do well with cruise liner visits with 54 vessels due to call to the Deepwater Quay in Cobh in 2009.

You can read the full report online at the Port of Cork's website at

Good news is promised soon on the Swansea-Cork ferry link. Apparently negotiations have been ongoing for some time but have been kept under wraps. We are promised an announcement by April. Not before time!

The question of the container terminal is a vexed one locally. Last year Bord Pleanála, the state planning authority, turned down an application from the Port of Cork for a new container terminal alongside its existing deepwater facilities at Ringaskiddy however the company have reiterated their determination to try again and are looking at a number of sites around the harbour. Ringaskiddy (again) and Marino Point near Cobh are believed to be key target sites.

Many people in the Lower Harbour area are totally opposed to the container terminal being built at any location in the district while residents in Tivoli want it out of there and clearly it has overgrown that site. I will give my personal opinion at the risk of earning disfavour locally. The container business is vital, not just to the port of Cork but to the region as a whole. Cork is the second largest container port in the Irish Republic and has gained enormously in economic terms from this. The rights of people living in the area must be respected and wherever the container terminal is built it must be able to deal with the traffic levels and contain the noise associated with its activities to a minimum. On the other hand there must also be an acceptance that the existing container terminal is totally inadequate and an alternative location must be found. The second biggest natural harbour in the world must afford space to all legitimate users be it ships, pleasure boats, fishing boats, swimmers, wind surfers , etc.

*An anonymous correspondent has sent in a comment (click 'comments' link below) telling me I need to check my facts and stating that Cork Port is only fourth largest in the state in terms of container traffic. The information I carried in the above article comes from a press release from the Port of Cork company which stated specifically "The Port of Cork is the second busiest Port in Ireland in terms of the number of containers handled". Therefore if the correspondent wishes to dispute these figures he / she should do so with the port authority. I would have to agree with the poster about the growing links between big business and the management of the port. Of course the port is in commercial business, but I personally believe the decision to semi-privatise the port was not in the interests of the taxpayers and represents only a move towards total privatisation. I also tend to agree that Marino Point should be central to the port's operations but the rights of local residents must also be weighed up. The port company's decision not to buy Marino Point when it became available was a mistake as indeed was the original decision to establish the deepwater facilities at Ringaskiddy. This was a politically inspired decision as is the move to run-down Iarnrod Éireann's freight section. We are being privatised by stealth.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Danger of floating logs and flotsam

The news that some 1,500 tonnes of timber was washed off the deck of a Russian cargo ship the Sinegorsk in the English Channel this weekend comes as a timely reminder of the dangers to small craft (and even some bigger ships) of floating debris at sea, particularly at this time of year when bad weather can cause the loss of cargo overboard either directly due to storm action or because ships are forced to jettison part of their load.

It is not uncommon to find entire oak trees floating in the ocean, not to mention the danger of 20ft or bigger containers and other loads that will float in water. In the days when all ships were wooden it was a very real hazard and still is for pleasure craft, trawlers and small coasters.

MSC Napoli Pictures, Images and Photos Photo shows lose containers on the container vessel MSC Napoli from which over 100 containers were lost overboard and washed up on Devon beaches in the UK.

We still don't know exactly what sank the Irish sail training vessel Asgard II in the Bay of Biscay last year but it is possible that she hit or was hit by a log or other large item in the water - even dead whales can pose a risk.

Coast Guards and shipping do keep an eye out for large objects so that they can be removed, towed away or have a marking beacon placed on them and it is recommended that anyone seeing such an object at sea or close to a port should report it to the relevan coast guard or police service - you could be saving lives.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Belated New Year greetings!

I have finally got around to a posting on the Old Blog Cabin after a period of inactivity due to other things happening which took up my time. I hope I haven't lost permanently any of the regular visitors to the site during that time.

I will add a few more posts over the next few days because a lot has been happening since I last posted a story on December 3rd. The saga of the Irish sail training vessel Asgard II rumbles on and one wonders whether the government's pledge to raise the Asgard if at all possible has fallen by the wayside as Ireland Inc. teeters from one economic crisis to another. The amount involved in raising Asgard pales into insignificance when you consider the important work she did for Ireland over her 28 years of service. It is a shame to have such an important vessel lying at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay deteriorating while officialdom prevaricates about what to do about her.

The decline in the Irish economy can be seen at the Cork City quays presently where the huge car carrier mv Autostar has been laid up for the last three weeks due to a lack of business. The car sales figures for the first fortnight of 2009 have plummetted. This is normally the busiest time of the year for car sales as people seek to get the new '09 car registrations. It is clear that demand has dropped significantly as the recession bites. Autostar will finally sail on Wednesday, 14th December. There are currently only four ships berthed in Cork port with just 10 more due over the next 3-4 days (source Port of Cork website It is not that long ago since that many and more passed through the port every day.

There is still no definite word on the possible return of a car ferry service between Cork and Swansea although the Cork Independent last week carried a story that a major announcement is imminent. We shall wait and see. Hopefully it will not be another false dawn because the loss of the service is still biting in both countries. The effect on tourism in the south-west of Ireland has been catastrophic.