Lives are being put at risk by dangerous “overcrowding” at a floating dock or pontoon in one of the country’s busiest fishery harbours.
Passengers aboard a car and passenger ferry, as well as islanders who sail to Castletownbere from Bere Island, are being forced to walk across a number of boats, often in poor weather, to access the mainland.
John Walsh of the Bere Island Project Group said: “We recently had a case of a woman expecting a baby who had to walk across several boats to get to dry land and then drive to Cork to have the baby.”
The pontoon was provided three years ago in the State-run West Cork harbour, the country’s top whitefish port, to facilitate smaller craft.
“We were told that there would be no overnight berthing of boats allowed without the prior approval of the harbour master and that the pontoon was for berthing Island boats, visiting boats and landing and picking up passengers from small vessels,” Mr Walsh said.
“What has happened is that the pontoon has been taken over by boats from the mainland and it is impossible to land the passenger ferry from the island or island boats.
“There have been occasions when so many boats have been left berthed at the pontoon that the passenger ferry was unable to land.”
Mr Walsh said islanders sailing to the mainland are regularly forced to tie their boats further out, before “walking” across berthed vessels to the pontoon.
“It is dangerous,” he said. “It is unsafe for islanders used to doing it and extremely hazardous for people from the mainland who are not used to walking across boats which could be rocking in bad weather.
“We also had a palliative care nurse coming to the island. The passenger ferry could not land and she had to walk across several boats to access the ferry.”
Bere Island ferryman Colm Harrington said there were occasions when the ferry was unable to dock because of lack of berthing space at the pontoon.
“Many passengers literally have to walk across boats,” he said, adding that, on top of that, some boats were left at the pontoon for long periods of time and often held significant amounts of water.
Boat owners who sailed from Bere Island and were forced to tie their vessel up at another vessel sometimes returned to find their boats ‘locked in’ by subsequent arrivals,” said Mr Harrington.
The Department of the Marine, however, said the pontoon was not reserved solely for the use of islanders.
“In 2014, a 32m-long pontoon facility was installed at Barrack Quay, Castletownbere, to accommodate smaller vessels in general,” said a spokesperson.
“It was not reserved for the use of islanders only. This facility was provided to allow safer access for vessel users, who previously accessed their crafts via stone steps. As this facility is in high demand, a 7m section has been reserved as a dedicated embarkation/disembarkation point only, where longer-term berthing is prohibited.
“This section is marked with a contrasting colour scheme on the pontoon and signage is in place. There is an independent slipway which facilitates the regular ferry servicing Bere Island.”
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