The Atlantic Youth Trust Charity (AYT) has secured a new 164ft tall ship to replace the Asgard II, which was the Irish national sail training vessel, until it sank in 2008.
The charity has negotiated a contract and placed a deposit to secure a 164ft Tradewind schooner, currently located in Sweden, which will serve as the new flagship for introducing young people across the island of Ireland to maritime careers through youth development programmes.
The three-mast vessel is a replica of a famous 19th-century wooden ship, the Lady Ellen, built with submarine standard steel, a 99ft main mast, and 13 sails. Owned and used over recent years by Tarbet Shipping, based in Skarhamn, she has crossed the Atlantic 17 times.
Annual funding of €950,000 for the Asgard II came from the National Lottery. The Department of Defence is now completing due diligence on the reinstatement of this annual funding for the new ship.
If funding is confirmed, the AYT will move ahead with raising €2.5m of private sponsorship to complete the purchase of the vessel before the end of February 2022.
The vessel will need to be certified for sailing training use, as well as refitted to remove more luxurious features such as a hospitality bar and en-suites, to make room for a training area and up to 45 berths, which will accommodate almost double the number of trainees as the Asgard II.
AYT is hopeful Government funding will be designated, and the vessel will be sailed to Ireland later this year for its refit in Belfast, and a ceremony where it will be renamed the Grace O’Malley, after the Mayo pirate queen.
As an “Asgard baby” himself, Cormac Gebruers, head of the National Maritime College of Ireland, highlighted the particular importance of the ship for youth development and engagement with maritime careers.
“We are seeing a drop in young people who are getting involved in maritime careers. In the past, it was possible to get out on ships and tugs and pilot boats to experience what it’s like, but the way the world has changed with insurance and health and safety, these opportunities aren't there anymore. So a structured, safe opportunity in the form of a sail training vessel is hugely important to attract young people into maritime professions,” he said.
“It’s a door-opener, but also a lifesaver for some young kids."