A potential ecological disaster on Ireland's west coast was averted when the naval service intervened to prevent a cargo vessel laden with oil from crashing against rocks.
Aqua Transporter, which was carrying 32,000 cubic tonnes of fuel and two cubic tonnes of lubricating oil, had lost power and was drifting towards rocks. If it had collided, its contents would have caused a major pollution incident along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Coast Guard contacted the naval service after receiving a request for help from the ship's Norwegian skipper, who reported he had lost engine power and was drifting. Fortunately, LÉ Niamh was on routine patrol just a few miles away.
The navy ship, under the captaincy of Lieutenant Commander Claire Murphy, responded to the early morning emergency request on Tuesday to help the cargo ship and its crew of six. It was drifting a few miles off Slyne Head, near Galway.
With winds picking up and pushing the cargo ship closer to the coast, it quickly became clear that the navy could not wait for a tugboat to tow her out of danger but would have to intervene itself. It took seven hours for LÉ Niamh to tow the vessel to a safe anchoring position north of the Aran Islands.
The navy ship remained on the scene, in case the ship's anchor became dislodged and she started drifting again, until a tugboat coming from Castletownbere arrived to tow Aqua Transporter into Galway for repairs.
“If she had gone aground we could have been looking at a serious pollution incident on the Wild Atlantic Way," said Lt Comdr Murphy.
"If it had hit the rocks there could also have been loss of life or serious injury.
“We were just happy to be there and to get the job done. It was fortunate we were nearby at the time.”