Drunken skipper almost hit oil refinery

A TRAWLER skipper was so drunk at the helm he zigzagged his way across a harbour and narrowly avoided ploughing into a main fuel supply line at Ireland’s only refinery.

The fisherman yesterday became the first person in the country to be convicted of being drunk in charge of a vessel following evidence which a district court judge described as a chilling incident.

Captain Michael McCarthy, deputy harbour master at the Port of Cork, said on the night of December 8 last, port operations personnel noticed the 30ft trawler Silver Harvest steering erratically around the harbour.

He said the trawler didn’t travel along the designated channel and the port’s radar observed it almost colliding with the fuel line jetty at the Whitegate Refinery.

Captain McCarthy told Cobh District Court he was contacted by colleagues who told him the trawler was behaving in a very dangerous manner and appeared to be heading out to sea. Captain McCarthy intercepted the Silver Harvest before it left the harbour and on boarding it found the vessel’s master, Declan Cummins, 35, in the wheelhouse.

“He was barely able to stand up and not conscious of where he was or what he was doing. I informed him I was taking the vessel back to Cobh because he was a danger of himself, his crew and a danger to shipping both inside and outside the port,” Captain McCarthy said.

He added that none of the four crew members on board seemed capable of navigating the vessel properly.

Superintendent Pat Sheehan said Cummins was so intoxicated he had to be helped into the local garda station after gardaí arrested him at the quay.

Captain McCarthy said it was fortunate that a vessel due to take on fuel at Whitegate had been delayed otherwise Cummins’ trawler could have collided with it. He said the harbour was an extremely busy place handling up to 6,000 shipping movements each year and if the Silver Harvest had managed to make it out of the harbour there could have been drastic consequences.

“Had it headed out to sea it could have foundered with the loss of crew, or it could have collided with shipping,” Captain McCarthy said.

Cummins, from Ballyhack, Arthurstown, New Ross, Co Wexford, admitted being incapable of discharging his proper duties as master of the vessel.

Judge Murrough Connellan questioned the possible serious outcome if Cummins had hit the Whitegate fuel pipeline or collided with other vessels and said he also had a duty to his crew of four. He imposed a six-month suspended sentence on Cummins and fined him a total of €875.

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