The relatives of 50 persons who died in the Whiddy Island Disaster when the oil tanker, MV Betelgeuse, caught fire and exploded at Gulf Oil’s Whiddy Island Oil Terminal’s offshore jetty in West Cork are applying to the High Court for rectification of the victims’ death certificates.
The French Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse say they are making the application due to what they perceive as the failure of the Irish State to address multiple unlawful safety failings which caused the deaths on Bantry Bay on January 8, 1979.
They state that, as a result of the successful application under European law by the families of the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster victims in the UK, they are asking that a coroner’s hearing be reconvened.
Their hope is that the the coroner will be directed by the High Court to find the deaths ‘unlawful’.
They are also seeking a “lengthy, honest, and heartfelt State apology” for the families, workers and rescue services, and the residents of Whiddy Island, who they say were forced into terrible danger due to breaches of safety and the State failure to ensure safe operations.
The relatives are also asking that the State apologises to the people of Bantry and West Cork for these failings and that the State carries out a thorough review of Ireland's maritime and energy regulatory framework, and implements currently outstanding international maritime regulation.
Michael Kingston, son of victim Tim Kingston, Vice President of the Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse says that action needs to be taken.
“My father and all those who died, including 43 people from other countries who came to work in Ireland, have been denied their final right under the Right to Life provisions of European law, and their death certificates are incorrect.
"They died unlawfully due to the appalling breaches of safety by Gulf Oil, and the failure to address these issues is a fundamental breach of their European rights by Ireland.
"They were left to die in atrocious circumstances and the State failed in its duty to ensure safe operations.
"The leaders of the Irish State have failed to show any compassion to the victims’ families, have issued no apology for their clear failings, and have ignored correspondence regarding current safety legislation.
"Given the failure to address these issues this action will not only finally establish the rights of our beloved relatives who died but protect the maritime industry and our precious rescue services and other workers today from repeated failings."
Eoin Warner, son of victim David Warner, says there has been a shadow of loss and pain over their lives for forty years.
"It’s time to shine a light on that void in our lives, to give our fathers a voice, stolen from them on the 8th of January 1979.
"We want justice for those who died so horrendously that night, moreover, we want to prevent such needless loss of life in the future amongst our seafaring communities.
Ciarán McCarthy Barrister and Master Mariner said the tragedy occurred because of the Irish State's cavalier approach to maritime safety.
"The contemporaneous Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry provides damning commentary on the legislative failures and the resultant shortcomings of the terminal operator in the period leading up to and during that dreadful night which led directly to the loss of life.
"Unfortunately, as evidenced by the continued failure by the Irish State to hold to account private and public entities in the years since the disaster and in its continuing disregard for the implementation of important commercial marine safety and fisheries measures, little has been learned.”
Seven Irish died: Tim Kingston, Charlie Brennan, Denis O’Leary, Neilly O’Shea, Jimmy O’Sullivan, Liam Shanahan, David Warner; along with Briton, Mike Harris; the 42 French crew, and Dutch diver Jaap Pols, who died later during the salvage operation.
At a commemoration last January in West Cork Michael Kingston said the relatives had been ignored by successive Irish governments.
He said he had written to Leo Varadkar in 2016 and before him to his predecessor, Enda Kenny, and to ministers to highlight Ireland’s failure to implement maritime safety legislation.
However, he says he failed to receive any replies.