Hopes Astrid will be floating museum

She should have led a flotilla of yachts in a parade of sail in to the magnificent Kinsale harbour in Co Cork six weeks ago.

Hopes Astrid will be floating museum

But instead, the badly-damaged wreck of the historic Dutch tall ship training vessel, Astrid, was hoisted slowly on to a recovery barge at the town’s Lobster Quay last night where her fate will be decided today.

Gardaí have secured the vessel following a request from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is due to examine it this morning.

Once the lift was complete, the salvage team, led by Seán Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine, officially handed the wreck back to her insurers who are poised to declare her a “constructive loss”.

It is understood that Astrid’s skipper and owner, Pieter de Kam, has expressed the hope that instead of scrapping his vessel, it could be repaired for use as a floating maritime museum in the Netherlands.

A decision on her fate will be made over the next 48-hours following a series of inspections by the insurers.

But the extent of damage to the hull was clearly visible once the ship was lifted clear of the water. Rivets have popped and plates have separated along the starboard side. There is also extensive damage to the keel. The top section of the aft mast also snapped during the salvage operation.

Meanwhile, nominated revenue officials, acting on behalf of the minister for transport as a receiver of wrecks, say they will secure any personal belongings still on board to ensure they are returned to their rightful owners.

Gerry Greenway, a receiver of wrecks, said anyone who finds an item from the ship is legally obliged to hand it over.

“For example, a salver found a wallet, complete with cards and cash, on the deck of the vessel yesterday and handed it over to us,” he said.

Arrangements will be made to securely store any personal effects found on board, and members of the crew and trainees who were on board when she ran aground will be invited to identify the items.

The Astrid lost engine power as she left Oysterhaven on Jul 24 and was blown on to rocks east of Kinsale Harbour.

All 30 people on board — 23 trainees and seven crew — were plucked to safety within minutes during a dramatic rescue operation.

The 95-year-old vessel had remained stuck fast on the rocks since.

However, after two weeks of preparation by the salvage team, she was finally lifted off the rocks by the huge floating crane, GPS Atlas, on Monday night.

The Atlas, which was also involved in the recovery of the Pere Charles trawler in 2007, towed her while still partially submerged to Kinsale’s Lobster Quay yesterday morning.

Over the course of several hours, the salvers straightened the wreck for lifting, and then inched her clear of the water before pumping her free of some 200-tonnes of sea water.

Then just after 6pm, the painstaking process of lifting her on to a barge began, as hundreds of people watched from the quayside.

The vessel was finally propped up and lashed to the barge and a pollution boom was installed around the quay.

The Astrid’s fuel lines and its four fuel tanks, two of which are empty, two of which are believed to contain at least 3.5 tonnes of diesel and oil, have all been sealed to prevent pollution.

Kinsale harbour master Captain Phil Devitt, who monitored the day-long operation, said it was the first salvage operation of its kind in Kinsale.

“I hope now that a decision will be made soon on the future of the vessel — whether it will be scrapped or taken back to the Netherlands,” he said.

He said he is anxious that the recently renovated Lobster Quay is freed up as soon as possible for use by fishing vessels.

Industry sources have estimated that the entire salvage operation cost a minimum of €300,000.

The Coast Guard, which ordered an underwater video survey within days of the vessel running aground, have ordered a second an underwater photographic and video survey of the wreck site to ensure everything has been removed from the rocks.

Inquiry phase

*The recovery of the wreck of the Astrid marks a crucial phase in the probe to establish why she ran aground.

Experts from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) are due in Kinsale this morning to inspect the vessel.

Skipper Pieter de Kam said he lost engine power as the tall ship left Oysterhaven on Jul 24 last.

Once he lost engines, he said he was powerless to prevent the prevailing onshore wind drive the ship, with 30 people on board, on to rocks beneath high cliffs just east of Kinsale harbour.

The MCIB probe will try to establish the condition of the Astrid’s engines before the accident, chart their service history, and establish if any engine faults were reported before they failed.

The probe will also examine the captain’s decision-making as he sailed out of Oysterhaven on Jul 24.

The investigators will focus in particular on why the captain took so tight a turn to starboard as he left Oysterhaven, and didn’t sail out past the Sovereign Rocks first before making the turn.

They will also want to know why he didn’t drop the vessel’s anchor once he knew his ship was in trouble.

The MCIB said it doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations. Its report could take several months to complete.

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