Grounded Astrid 'should not have been at sea' - Report

A review of the grounding of an historic tall ship which sank off west Cork with more than 30 people on board has found a catalogue of failures and breaches of international regulations in the running of the ship, highlighting poor route planning before it set sail past the Sovereign islands.

Thirty passengers and crew were rescued from the 42-metre Astrid after engine failure forced it on to a rocky island off west Cork on July 24 2013 during a tourism regatta.

The 93-year-old former cargo ship – believed to have been used by drug smugglers after being retired from work in 1975 – was later salvaged but scrapped.

Astrid was one of 50 vessels taking part in a five mile journey from Oysterhaven to Kinsale as part of Ireland’s 2013 Gathering initiative – a tourism bid to encourage the Irish diaspora to return to their homeland on holiday.

A review of the incident by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) found “Passage planning of the voyage from Oysterhaven to Kinsale was inadequate, for a passenger ship navigating a course within 300m of a lee shore in a force six wind,”

“The passage planning appears to have been influenced by the desire for photograph opportunities for the Gathering Cruise event. Priority should have been given to safe navigation and avoidance of dangerous situations.”

Among recommendations in the wake of the incident, MCIB investigators said the master of a tall ship must retain over-riding authority when taking part in promotional activities and they must not compromise good passage planning or the safety of a ship, crew or passengers.

Investigators said the ship grounded because the engines failed after fresh water contaminated fuel.

The inquiry blamed human error for this when water was being taken on board in Brighton 12 days before the incident.

The investigators also warned mistakes were made when a mayday alert was being sent out causing a 10 minute delay in getting RNLI and Coast Guard crews out to sea.

The report found this “could have been critical to the final outcome had conditions been more severe”.

It went on: “The main cause of this grounding is that the ship was not operated in a safe manner in compliance with the International Conventions.

“The correct passage planning procedures should have been carried out and the Master should not have altered his passage in an unsafe manner to facilitate promotional activities.”

Astrid was also found to have broken international rules on passenger vessels, known as the Solas Conventions, which the investigators said presented “a danger to the ship and the persons on-board and a threat of harm to the marine environment”.

“The ship was not certified as a passenger ship for either EU or international voyages nor were the crew appropriately certified and the ship should not have been at sea,” the report concluded.

The inquiry found an annual inspection of liferafts, due in April 2013, had not been carried out although they worked without problems during the rescue.

Also, the tall ship did not have a valid Certificate of Seaworthiness and the Master’s Certificate of Competency expired one month before the accident.

The ship was owned by Dutch couple Ineke de Kam and her husband Pieter, 62. He was captaining the vessel during the incident.

Those on board when the tragedy struck included eight Irish sail trainees, four from the Netherlands, three from the UK, six from French, two from Belgium and one Spaniard.

One of the sailors, Daragh Comiskey, 17, from Co Wexford, credited emergency training for keeping them calm as they awaited rescue on the day.

The MCIB issued a series of recommendations for operators of sail training vessels in the wake of the Astrid incident including a demand for operators to ensure the ships on international voyages comply with international conventions and European Union law as passenger ships.

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