Collision of ships in night off Kerry coast could have led to environmental disaster, court hears

Bulk carrier loaded with 44,000 tonnes of bauxite for Aughinish in Limerick was involved in collision with fishing trawler

A collision between a French-registered trawler and a bulk carrier vessel on its way to the Aughinish plant in Limerick could have led to an environmental disaster, the High Court has heard.

The collision occurred just before midnight on October 12th, 2019, between the Kirrixhi trawler and the Hong Kong-registered Hua Sheng Hai around 24 nautical miles northwest of Inishtearagh Lighthouse on one of the Blasket Islands off Co Kerry.

The vessel owners have sued each other for damages alleging negligence against each other. The court is first dealing with the question of who was liable.

The bulk carrier owner, Hua Sheng Hai Ltd, which had chartered the vessel from a subsidiary of the Chinese Cosco group, says the trawler skipper was not watching where he was going in what it alleges was the “worst possible watch-keeping standard”.


MV Rochelaise de Peche SA, the Kirrixhi owner, says it was the bulk carrier that failed to keep a proper lookout in circumstances where it spotted the trawler some distance away and failed to properly assess the trawler’s position. The trawler owners say their vessel had its “not under command” lights on while repairs were being carried out after it had engine cooler difficulties.

The bulk carrier failed to observe “give way” rules at sea, failed to properly monitor the trawler movements and failed to have regard to the size of the Kirrixhi, it is claimed.

The 229-metre bulk carrier, loaded with 44,000 tonnes of bauxite for Aughinish, was 121 times the length of the trawler. Five trawler crew members were injured, three of whom required treatment in Dingle hospital due to the collision, the court heard.

Opening the case on Tuesday, David Conlan Smyth SC, for Hua Sheng Hai Ltd, said everyone on the trawler could have been killed in the collision. Had it occurred a little further back at the bulk carrier’s oil tanks, it “could have created an environmental disaster”, he said.

Counsel said conditions on the night were good and the officer and able-bodied seaman in the bridge of the Hua Sheng Hai had noted the trawler as a “vessel of interest” about 15 nautical miles away.

The carrier’s crew were keeping a proper lookout and had identified the trawler on its onboard electronic monitoring equipment, including radar, he said.

The trawler skipper said the vessel was under repair at the time but it then went into what counsel called a “bizarre manoeuvre” before maintaining a “curiously straight line” at a speed of nine knots, two below its maximum speed, right up to the collision.

In a witness statement, the trawler skipper said he was focused on a trawling operation at the time, counsel said.

The carrier would have been visible “if the (trawler) skipper had been looking” where he was going because the carrier had all its required lights on. “But we know he was not because he was looking out the back,” he said.

It also appeared the internal lights in the wheelhouse of the trawler were on which meant it would have been difficult to see out or to see the controls in the wheelhouse. “It was like travelling along a motorway at 120kph. It would be hard to see your own dials let alone what was out there”, counsel said.

“If he (trawler skipper) had bothered to look, he could not have missed the Hu Sheng Hai.

“We also don’t know if he was wearing headphones because he did not hear the (carrier’s) whistle which was sounded five times”.

Both vessels were later arrested and released after security was provided to the authorities. The carrier went to Shannon, offloaded its cargo, and repairs were carried out there.

Minor repairs were done to the trawler in Dingle before it went to Spain for major fixes. Assurances were given that data from the trawler’s electronic monitoring equipment would be downloaded before it left Ireland, counsel said.

But it was not and, on November 6th while in Spain, the trawler’s onboard devices were destroyed in a fire to the “great surprise” to his side, counsel said.

The case continues before Mr Justice Denis McDonald.