An internationally-respected maritime lawyer, whose father died in the Whiddy Island oil tanker tragedy, has warned the State it could face legal action if the Government doesn’t adequately address fundamental justice and safety issues arising out of the disaster.
Michael Kingston, whose father, Tim, was one of 50 people who died when the Betelgeuse tanker caught fire and exploded as it was unloading crude oil at the Gulf Oil operation terminal at Whiddy in Bantry Bay early on January 8, 1979, followed through yesterday on his pledge at Tuesday’s 40th anniversary commemoration of the tragedy to write to all Oireachtas members about concerns the victims’ families still have four-decades on.
The bodies of 23 of the French victims were never recovered. A Dutch diver lost his life in the salvage operation later.
Speaking in St Finbarr’s Church in Bantry earlier this week, Mr Kingston, who is vice president of the relatives and friends of the Betelgeuse and who played a key role organising the commemoration, criticised the absence of senior government ministers at the ceremony.
Addressing Minister of State, Jim Daly, directly, he said the State must demonstrate clearly that it has learnt from the “appalling and senseless tragedy” and do more to improve marine safety.
But he also called on the Taoiseach to issue a public apology to victims of the tragedy, he said the deaths should be ruled unlawful, and he called for the urgent introduction of an offence of corporate manslaughter.
He urged Mr Daly to bring the families’ concerns directly to Cabinet.
In his correspondence to Oireachtas members, he said the time has come for the government to address hugely important issues in relation to fundamental rights, the administration of justice, protection of sea workers, and maritime safety regulations.
“It is time now for us to take these issues very seriously,” he said.
“As I said in the church, the approach is not good enough.
“We do not want to have to make the trip to the Four Courts, but as I also said, if we have to go to the well of our being again, we will.”
He also copied President Michael D Higgins and French Ambassador in Ireland, Stephane Crouzat in on his correspondence.