Arklow Shipping tells court it did not pressurise captain

Company is seeking €1.4m from Drogheda Port Company

A co-founder of one of the largest cargo shipping companies in the country has told the Commercial Court it was “nonsense” to suggest his firm put pressure on a captain to put the maximum possible load of cement on one of its ships which later hit a sandbank.

James Tyrelll, who co-founded Arklow Shipping in 1960s, said his company did not do anything unsafe because it would be commercial suicide to do so.

He is being cross-examined in an action by Arklow Shipping Group seeking some €1.4 million from the Drogheda Port Company for damage to the “Arklow Valour” ship when it hit a sandbank as it was navigating the mouth of the Boyne river port on leaving Drogheda harbour on December 13th, 2018.


Arklow claims Drogheda was negligent in relation to the reliability of information about how deep the water was that day.


The court heard the ship was transporting some 4,000 tonnes of cement bound for Britain when it came to a dramatic halt within 20 seconds of hitting the sandbank. The cargo was removed the next day, sent to its destination and the Arklow Valour was refloated and went to Swansea harbour for repairs.

Arklow’s central claim is that Drogheda had a duty to know what the under-keel clearance was on the day in circumstances where the underwater sandbar can be at a different depth depending on tides, weather and other factors. To determine this, “depth soundings” are regularly taken.

Mr Tyrell, who handed over most of his shares in the 65-vessel Arklow group to his son James junior six years ago and is now an executive director, said shipping companies rely on harbour authorities to provide accurate and up to date soundings to ensure safe arrival and departure.

In this case, he said, the last sounding was taken three days before the Arklow Valour left Drogheda and there turned out not to be enough water there for the ship to navigate its exit. There had been a previous incident with another Arklow ship and it was their case they could not operate without reliability of figures on harbour depth at any port, he said.


Earlier he told David Conlan Smyth SC, for Drogheda, pressure was not put on the captain of the ship to ensure the ship was filled up with cement to its maximum possible level or “draught” which in this case was 6m.

It was not pressure but shipping firms have a choice where they “can run around and half fill and not make money” or load to the maximum permissible draft which makes commercial sense, he said.

He disagreed with counsel that “considerable pressure” was put on the Arklow Valour captain to take the maximum possible load. It was “nonsense”, he said and it was a matter of taking the “maximum permissible not possible”.

He said there was “no intention by Arklow Shipping to do anything unsafe” because that would be commercial suicide.

He disagreed with counsel’s interpretation of Arklow’s own marine expert’s finding in which he attributed no blame for the incident to the Drogheda harbourmaster. He said there was implied criticism in the expert’s report that the waters had not been sounded enough because it was stated there was “insufficient water” that day.

He agreed the report did not say there was a failure to carry out depth soundings on a frequent basis.

Mr Tyrrell also said there was no logic to overloading a ship and his company has a very good record on safety. “Captains are not put under pressure to do anything illegal,” he said.

The case, being heard before Mr Justice Denis McDonald through the remote Trialview system, resumes on Tuesday.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times