Skipper recalls the final moments of stricken tall ship

The captain of the stricken tall ship Astrid fought back tears yesterday as he recalled the moment he knew his beloved ship was lost.

Skipper recalls the final moments of stricken tall ship

But Dutch skipper Pieter de Kam, 63, said he never feared for a moment about losing a crew member.

As the 95-year-old vessel was forced on to the rocks and began to sink around noon on Wednesday, just east of Kinsale harbour, Mr de Kam said: “I told my trainees this is not a problem for you — only the Astrid. I’m feeling that it’s sinking and that is not nice.”

He became emotional as he spoke of the moment he knew the vessel was lost.

“This is one of the most miserable things that can happen,” he said.

“It’s like a movie in my head now. It’s coming back every minute and all last night.

“It’s sad, because I love the Astrid, to see her come to such an end.”

Mr de Kam was speaking as he waited at Kinsale Yacht Club in Co Cork for news on whether his vessel can be salvaged.

The naval vessel, LÉ Roisin, was enforcing a 200m exclusion zone around the stricken vessel which is still grounded on rocks.

The wreck was pounded by heavy seas on Wednesday following the dramatic rescue of all 30 crew earlier in the day.

Large waves were crashing over her decks at high tide but her stern was visible at low tide. Her hull and masts are intact but she is stuck fast on the rocks.

There are still 3.5 tonnes of diesel on board but following an inspection of the hull by naval service divers early yesterday, the coast guard said they are happy there is no immediate pollution threat to the environment.

A flyover by the coast- guard’s Waterford-based rescue helicopter later in the day confirmed there has been no fuel spill.

The wreck is also being monitored from the cliffs above by a coastguard cliff rescue team.

The coastguard’s pollution and salvage operations officer, Hugh Barry, said arrangements are already being made for a possible salvage operation.

“There is a reasonable chance it can be salvaged,” he said.

“She is wedged on the rocks and the water there is quite deep.

“And we have a weather forecast for the area for the next 48 hours and conditions look good so time is of the essence.”

However, the coastguard will have to examine and sign off on any salvage plan before it can begin.

Salvage experts from Cork arrived on scene yesterday afternoon to conduct a preliminary examination of the wreck for its Dutch insurers.

The findings of that inspection will determine how and when the vessel might be salvaged.

Divers may use slings with sheer legs to refloat her but her masts may complicate that procedure.

They may also opt to strap giant airbags to the hull and inflate them in a bid to shift her off the rocks.

Meanwhile, 15 of the 23 international trainees saved from the vessel, and who stayed with local host families after their dramatic rescue, travelled by bus to Dublin yesterday morning to make arrangements at their respective embassies to fly home.

Mr de Kam paid tribute to his crew of six Belgian sailors and to the young trainees for following their safety drills and remaining calm throughout.

“For such situations, we do drills for when we have severe weather conditions, for when we have a man overboard.

“The crew knows very good what they must do. They are so drilled, they know exactly what to do and they did it. We saved all our trainees.”

And he praised the Irish rescue services who he said were “perfect”.

Marine Minister Simon Coveney also hailed all involved in the rescue, from the skipper of the Astrid, to all the emergency and volunteer services, to local people around Kinsale who offered assistance.

“It was probably the best example we have had in some time of just how good our emergency services can be and how co-ordinated they are, with all the different parties, from Naval Service to the RNLI, the coastguard and all the local volunteers, and people who have long experience in marine issues like those from the Oysterhaven Centre who were really involved, and Kinsale Yacht Club,” he said.

He also praised people who gave support locally with their time, or by offering clothes and food to those rescued from the Astrid.

Mr Coveney said there were a lot of parallels with what happened in Baltimore two years ago and the response to the capsized Rambler 100 yacht during the Fastnet race off the south Cork coast.

“We can be very proud of all the services involved, and the way in which they all worked together to ensure no loss of life. It’s a testament to how professional the skipper was, but also how quick the emergency services responded,” he said.

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