A teenage sailor dramatically rescued with 29 crew mates when a historic tall ship struck rocks and sank off the Cork coast has said emergency training helped them keep calm as they awaited help.
Daragh Comiskey, 17, from Co Wexford, was among a group of more than 20 young people from across Britain, Ireland and Europe onboard the Dutch-owned Astrid when it ran aground in heavy seas on the approach to Kinsale harbour in Co Cork just before 12pm today.
The ship, which takes groups of aspiring sailors on training voyages around the world, lost power in its engine, leaving the crew helpless to save it from being tossed onto the rocky shoreline.
Lifeboats scrambled from across Co Cork arrived within 30 minutes to help rescue the young trainees and the other more experienced crew. Two Irish Coastguard helicopters were also deployed to the scene in response to the mayday call.
“It was very rough when we hit the rocks,” said Daragh.
“There were a few attempts to get the ship back off them but that wasn’t going to work. I only realised the ship was in real trouble when the life jackets started getting handed out.”
Despite the drama, Daragh said people on board remained calm.
“Everyone knew what to do, we were all trained. We just listened to instructions.
“Everyone got back safely, which is what matters.”
The Astrid was one of 50 vessels taking part in a flotilla-style five mile journey from Oysterhaven to Kinsale as part of Ireland’s 2013 Gathering initiative – a tourism bid to encourage the diaspora to return to their homeland on holiday.
As it started to sink around 12pm, the crew assembled on deck to await rescue.
Eighteen of the crew were rescued and taken back to Kinsale harbour in another vessel taking part in the event – the Spirit of Oysterhaven – with the remainder ferried to land in a lifeboat.
RNLI crews reported that some of those rescued were in a very shocked state. Crew members were medically assessed at Kinsale Yacht Club and none required hospital treatment.
The trainees onboard the Astrid came from Ireland, England, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Belgium. Those unable to return home tonight are being put up in Kinsale until further travel arrangements are made.
Ineke de Kam owns the ship with her husband Pieter, 62. He was captaining the vessel during the incident.
“I spoke with him on the phone and he’s okay,” she said.
“All the people are safe and that is very important – the crew and all the trainees are safe.
“But, everything is lost. We cannot believe it.
“He was using the small motor and it would not start and then he put all the sails up but it was too late, he was on the rocks. Then he called the Coastguard and they arrived in time to help and everyone is safe.
“I was so shook up when I heard – I could not believe it. There is so much to do in Ireland – I do not know when he will be home. I am just glad he is okay and that he was able to call me.”
The trip to Ireland was the first expedition Mrs de Kam had not accompanied her husband on. She said he was an experienced sailor.
Vincent O’Donovan from the RNLI said a major rescue operation had to be launched.
“It was very dramatic,” he said.
“It happened very quickly, thanks be to God the rescue was successful.
“That is a very rocky part of the coastline, there is a famous old ship wreck that lies in that area, it is a place inaccessible by land.
“It was very hairy, anything could have gone wrong, if the life rafts were blown onto the rocks it could have been very serious.”
A spokesman for the Irish Coastguard said four RNLI lifeboats, including crews from Kinsale, Ballycotton and Courtmacsherry along the Cork coast, were sent to the scene.
The two Irish Coastguard rescue helicopters based at Shannon and Waterford were also deployed.
Today’s drama is likely to mark the final chapter in the Astrid’s already colourful history.
Built in the Netherlands in 1918 as a cargo ship, the vessel was transferred into Swedish ownership and worked Baltic sea trade routes until 1975.
After another sale the ship was alleged to have fallen into the hands of drug smugglers.
She was found abandoned and burnt to a shell off the coast of England in the early 1980s. A salvage operation saved her then and she was transformed into a training vessel for young people.
The de Kams bought the ship around seven years ago.