Pilot captain in Drogheda harbour says ‘we all underestimated’ underwater clearance

High Court hears action relating ship’s grounding in 2018

The High Court. Arklow Shipping claims it cannot operate in any port without reliable information about depth, readings of which it says should be taken on a daily basis. Photograph: iStock

The High Court. Arklow Shipping claims it cannot operate in any port without reliable information about depth, readings of which it says should be taken on a daily basis. Photograph: iStock

 

A pilot boat captain in Drogheda harbour told the High Court “we all underestimated” the underwater clearance a cement-laden ship needed before it ran aground at the Co Louth port in 2018.

Captain Andrew Breach was giving evidence in a €1.4 million action by Arklow Shipping Group which claims Drogheda Port Company authorities were negligent in the information provided about the harbour depth on the day of the incident on December 13th, 2018. Drogheda Port denies the claim.

Arklow Shipping claims it cannot operate in any port without reliable information about depth, readings of which it says should be taken on a daily basis. Drogheda harbour can require regular dredging, the court heard.

Following the grounding, the 4,000 tonne-plus cargo of cement was removed from the Arklow Valour the next day, and the ship was later refloated and sent for repairs in Swansea,Wales.

Captain Breach, who is self-employed and paid by shipping agents for his pilot services, told the court he had a “fairly thorough” talk about sea conditions with the captain of the Arklow Valour prior to piloting the ship out of the harbour.

Asked by Drogheda Port counsel David Conlan Smyth SC what his response was to the Arklow Valour captain’s evidence that at no point did anyone give him an option not to sail, Captain Breach said it was up to the ship’s captain to make that decision.

Cross-examined by Colm Ó hOisín SC, for Arklow Shipping, Captain Breach said he was aware Drogheda harbour master Captain Martin Donnelly had denied in evidence he ever indicated to anyone what should be the depth of the ship’s draught (how far below water the keel should be). Captain Donnelly repeatedly said that all he advised on was what “under-keel clearance” was.

Conversations

Asked if he was surprised to hear what the harbour master said, Captain Breach said he was not sure of what conversations the harbour master had with agents and ship captains, but he personally looked at sailing draughts for each vessel he dealt with.

He said that sometimes the harbour master would recommend what the sailing draught should be. If he (harbour master) wanted draught restrictions he would send an email stating that, he said.

Asked by counsel was not the reason for the ship’s grounding that the estimate of the harbour master was incorrect, Captain Breach said: “Yes, I think we all underestimated it.”

He agreed the responsibility for giving information to users of the port was with the harbour master.

Evidence in the case, being heard through the remote Trialview system, has ended. Mr Justice Denis McDonald said he would receive written legal submissions from the parties before reserving his decision.