Energy giant Shell today strongly denied any involvement in the alleged sinking of a trawler carrying protesters opposed to its controversial new gas terminal in Ireland.
Two men were rescued from the stricken boat Iona Isle in the early hours of the morning, with one claiming a masked and armed gang boarded and sank the vessel.
Pat O’Donnell, a prominent critic of Shell’s planned refinery at Glengad, Co Mayo, said they were held for almost two hours before being forced to flee the vessel.
Two TDs have separately demanded independent investigations into the alleged incident at Broadhaven Bay, about one mile from shore.
Garda sources said Mr O’Donnell was interviewed after the incident but declined to make a complaint.
But the force is carrying out an investigation into the sinking, after receiving a phone call alleging the boat had been illegally boarded.
In a statement Shell said it “emphatically rejects” the allegation it was in any way involved in the incident.
“A number of malicious allegations have been made against [Shell] and its security contractors in recent weeks,” it said.
“These claims are designed to cast doubt on the integrity of the project and the personnel working on it, but have no basis in fact.”
Mr O’Donnell claimed four masked men boarded the vessel at about 2am.
Two were armed and held Mr O’Donnell and his crewman Martin McDonnell in the wheelhouse of the boat while another two went below deck for 20 minutes, it is alleged.
He said the men then returned to the deck and the two crew members were held for one and a half hours until the engine went out.
After the alleged captors made their escape, Mr O’Donnell said he went down to the engine room, discovered the vessel was sinking and sent a mayday call.
The Coast Guard station in Malin Head said it received a mayday from the ship at 4.39am and immediately alerted local vessels in the area.
The trawler Rachel Mary – also owned by Mr O’Donnell and operated by his son Jonathan – went to the aid of the stricken ship.
Mr O’Donnell said he feared for his safety and contacted gardaí at about 6am.
Shell said the project and local suppliers had been subjected to criminal damage and lawlessness from protesters, many of whom came from outside the area.
TDs Ciaran Cuffe from the Green Party and Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris have both demanded investigations into the sinking of the trawler.
The incident is the latest in the long-running bitter dispute.
Six people were arrested today in the Glengad area for alleged public order offences, including two women.
Eight people were arrested last month after 100 demonstrators turned out at the site at Glengad, north Mayo, where they tried to gain access to the Shell compound.
Gardaí said some attempted to break through the security fencing using improvised tools.
In April a masked gang entered the site late at night armed with chains and iron bars and took control of a mechanical digger, which they used to cause damage.
Private security guards hired by Shell alleged they were assaulted and threatened.
One prominent protester, winner of the 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize, Willie Corduff, claimed he was also attacked, by men wearing balaclavas.
Mr Corduff, one of the so-called Rossport Five, who was jailed along with four other men for 94 days in 2005 over the long-running protests, was hospitalised.