Video: 30 rescued as Dutch tall ship sinks off Cork coastline
Square-rigger lost engine power while leading The Gathering cruise
Irish and Dutch authorities are expected to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the 42m Tall Ship Astrid off the Cork coast yesterday.
Seven crew and 23 young trainees from Ireland, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain were safely rescued an hour before the square-rigger sank off the mouth of Oysterhaven.
The ship, which was en route from Southampton to Cherbourg in France, was leading a parade of sail for the Gathering cruise out of Oysterhaven harbour after 11am.
It was bound for Kinsale when it experienced engine failure shortly before midday.
It struck rocks shortly afterwards at an area known as Prince’s Grave or Bed near the Sovereign Islands, where a four-masted steel barque, the Falls of Garry, sank in 1911.
The ship had attempted to use its sails to manoeuvre in a 4m swell and force four to five southerly winds, but the master, Capt Pieter de Kam, issued a Mayday and mustered the crew and trainees when it began to take water.
Irish Sailing Associate chief executive Harry Hermon, who was on a Rib accompanying the flotilla of 15 boats, witnessed the events. “The skipper waved to us and indicated he had engine failure,” Mr Hermon said. “The crew tried to put up the sails but there was a strong onshore wind.
“We tried to put a line on to try and tack him away from the wind, but the Rib wasn’t big enough or powerful enough to do that, and it was just too late to throw an anchor.
“The Irish Coast Guard was alerted, and RNLI Kinsale inshore lifeboat was on scene within 15 minutes,” he said. “They used a raft to transfer the crew and trainees on to the Spirit of Oysterhaven and RNLI Courtmacsherry all-weather lifeboat.”
He added: “The ship’s crew had mustered all the trainees, and they looked as if they had been through the drill and had lifejackets on. They were frightened but no one was panicking and it was a textbook rescue.”
Rose Lynch (16) from Wexford, who was on board, said: “It was about 11.45am when the engine broke down. We had just put the spinnaker up when the engine stopped working and the wind and the tide just pushed us towards the rocks and the boat sank.
“It was all very calm, everybody knew what they were doing – a lot of people had a lot of experience of sailing . . . Everyone was a bit frightened but no one’s life was in danger. No one was worried – the RNLI came and rescued us,”she said.
Darragh Comiskey (17) from Wexford paid tribute to the rescue services. “They were really really rapid in getting to the scene. They got there in less than 10 minutes. We were very surprised by how quickly they arrived.”
Valentia Coast Guard had tasked four RNLI lifeboats from Kinsale, Courtmacsherry, Ballycotton and Crosshaven, along with the Irish Coast Guard Shannon and Waterford helicopters, and Irish Coast Guard teams from Old Head and Oysterhaven. A major emergency plan was activated in Cork, and a medical emergency team was also on standby at Dublin Airport to fly to Cork.
However, the major response was stood down when all 30 were accounted for.
Five ambulances were awaiting the rescued crew and trainees when they were brought ashore at Kinsale.
“They were well shocked and some were in mild stages of hypothermia, but no one was hurt,” RNLI Courtmacsherry lifeboat spokesman Vincent O’Donovan said.
All crew and trainees were brought to Kinsale Yacht Club where they were provided with showers, food and dry clothing, and medically checked.
The LE Emer patrol ship was dispatched, along with a Naval Service diving team from Haulbowline, to assess the situation as the ship began to break up and sink on the rocks. The Emer was expected to remain on the scene overnight.
Almost five years ago, the Irish sail training vessel Asgard II sank off the northwest French coast and its crew of 25 rescued by two French lifeboats. Its former skipper Capt Colm Newport, who is in the Baltic, said yesterday he was delighted to hear all the Astrid crew and trainees had been safely rescued.
Built in 1918, the Astrid brig was originally an English ship before it was bought and restored by the Dutch in 1998 and participated in Tall Ships races. It offered sail training for young people, including trainees living with Down syndrome.
Capt de Kam thanked the lifeboat and Irish Coast Guard.