Drogheda harbour master tells court not his role to advise ship on load depth

Case concerns claim arising from ship’s grounding in 2018

Arklow Shipping Group has taken the High Court action against Drogheda Port Company claiming €1.4 million over losses and damage to a cement-laden ship on December 13th, 2018. Photograph: iStock

Arklow Shipping Group has taken the High Court action against Drogheda Port Company claiming €1.4 million over losses and damage to a cement-laden ship on December 13th, 2018. Photograph: iStock

 

The harbour master of Drogheda Port has told the High Court it was not his role to advise what depth a cement-laden ship should have been loaded to before it left the port and hit a sandbank in 2018.

Captain Martin Donnelly said his role was to advise what “under keel” clearance was available to the Arklow Valour but he never advised what the draught, or depth the ship should be, on leaving the port.

This was what he did in December 2018 in advance of the cargo ship leaving the port with more than 4,000 tonnes of cement, he said.

He was being cross examined about a statement he made for an action by the Arklow Shipping Group against Drogheda Port Company claiming €1.4 million over losses and damage to the ship arising out of the grounding on December 13th, 2018.

Arklow Shipping is alleging negligence in relation to the reliability of information about how deep the water was that day. The claims are denied.

Following the grounding, the cargo was removed the next day, sent to its destination and the Arklow Valour was refloated and went to Swansea harbour for repairs.

The court heard there was a significant dispute between the parties as to whether the harbour master spoke to those involved in seeing the safe passage of ships through the port about the ship’s draught or the under keel clearance between the bottom of the ship and the sea bed.

Matters of draught

Under cross examination by Colm ÓhOisín SC, for Drogheda, Captain Donnelly said he only ever spoke of under keel clearance because that was the information he acquired based on depth measurements, weather and tides. Matters of the ship’s draught was for the vessel captains and owners, he said.

He disagreed he spoke about the ship’s draught to the shipping agent Fergal McGuinness, owner of KC Shipping, but said he did speak to him about under keel clearance.

He had discussions with Mr McGuinness about the need to further reduce that clearance as weather conditions changed coming up to December 18th.

Pressed by counsel on the issue, Captain Donnelly insisted he only ever spoke about under keel clearance and he did not deal with figures relating to a ship’s draught which can vary for each vessel.

He said there was a time when he boarded Arklow Shipping vessels to discuss under keel clearance with the masters of the vessels but he stopped that practice because the masters would say they had to first refer back to Arklow’s office. “I got frustrated by this and stopped boarding the ships and I only discussed under keel clearance.”

He disagreed with evidence of Arklow director James Tyrell that daily depth soundings should be taken at Drogheda. He said he did not think Mr Tyrell was being serious because to do that would be physically impossible.

The case continues before Mr Justice Denis McDonald.