Five sailors still missing in Irish Sea

Mon, Nov 28, 2011, 00:00

THE SEARCH for five Russian seamen who are missing in the Irish Sea was scaled down last night. Their cargo ship sank in gale-force winds some 20 miles south of Holyhead, Wales, early yesterday.

Two of eight crew on board the MV Swanlandwere rescued by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) yesterday morning.

The body of a third crewman was recovered from the area by the Irish Coast Guard’s Waterford-based helicopter. The crew of the 81m vessel issued a Mayday call at about 3am.

They reported the hull was cracking and the ship was taking in water about 30 miles northwest of the Welsh Lleyn peninsula.

One of the two survivors rescued by the RAF – which included British Prince William as part of the helicopter crew – reportedly described how the ship was hit by an “enormous” wave, rolled over and broke in half.

Three Irish Coast Guard helicopters, the Naval Service patrol ship LE Roisínand an Air Corps Casa maritime patrol aircraft were tasked by Holyhead Coast Guard in one of the largest joint rescues undertaken by Irish and British rescue agencies in the Irish Sea.

The Irish units worked with RAF Valley and Chivenor search and rescue helicopters and RNLI lifeboats from Pwllheli and Porthdinllaen, along with other vessels in the area.

The helicopters refuelled at the RAF Valley station.

Rescue attempts ended before darkness last night and a decision will be taken today by Holyhead Coastguard about the extent of an ongoing search.

The two survivors were wearing immersion suits with strobe lighting.

The ship is believed to have sunk in about 15 minutes.

Five of the crew were on deck and three were below, including the captain, engineer and first mate. It is believed they had no time to escape and were among the five still missing last night.

The RNLI reported two liferafts and some floating debris on the sea surface when their lifeboats arrived on the scene, but there was no sign of the ship.

The MV Swanland was carrying 3,000 tonnes of limestone to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. In August 2010, the same ship was towed into Falmouth by the RNLI after its engines failed and it nearly ran aground off the Lizard peninsula on England’s southwest coast.

The MV Swanland was built in Holland in 1977 and is owned by a Grimsby company. It was sailing under the Cook Islands flag.

An investigation into the sinking is expected to focus on weather factors and the extent of the swell in the Irish Sea, the ship’s maintenance history and the layout of the cargo on board.

Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds, who supervised the Irish response, said the Irish Sea was considered as a “shared lake” with shared response. Britain had a long history of responding to emergencies off this coastline, before establishment of an Irish coastguard more than two decades ago.

It is expected that any pollution risk from the ship’s hull will be monitored by the British authorities.

Mr Reynolds noted that the Irish Coast Guard, LE Roisín and an Air Corps Casa had participated in a joint training exercise with French counterparts, simulating a similar situation, just last month.