'Asgard II' more likely to be raised as exploration reveals it is largely intact


PROSPECTS OF salvaging the sail training ship Asgard IIhave increased, following the discovery that the hull is upright and "largely intact" on the seabed in the Bay of Biscay.

An initial survey by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has also confirmed that one of the hull's planks has a significant fracture.

However, the Department of Defence said that it is "not possible at this stage to determine whether this has resulted from impact with the seabed, or was the original cause of the sinking".

The French coast guard has confirmed that the area where the ship sank on September 11th, some 22km (14 miles) west of Belle-Île on the French northwest coast, has a sandy bottom with no significant rocks.

Marine experts believe the fracture in the plank could have been caused on impact - such as by collision with a hatch cover washed off a merchant ship. Hatch covers are frequent and dangerous debris in busy shipping lanes, and some are fitted with iron spikes which can have a lancing effect.

Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea said yesterday in a statement that he and his fellow directors on Coiste an Asgard, which runs the State's sail training programme, would like to "thank everyone who has sent messages of support and good wishes on the unfortunate accident".

"Until further investigations are carried out, it is not possible to say whether Asgard IIcan be salvaged," his department's statement said.

However, an early salvage before the weather deteriorates could prove significantly cheaper than building a replacement vessel. The vessel is insured for €3.8 million, according to the department, and a salvage before the vessel deteriorates could be carried out for less than €2 million.

All 25 crew members and trainees on Asgard IIwere evacuated to life-rafts, and rescued by volunteers with the French marine rescue service, SNSM, early on September 11th.

The alarm was raised when the ship began to take in water which its bilge pumps couldn't cope with. The ship was en route from Falmouth in England to La Rochelle in France.

The ship sank, bow first, at 9.30am Irish time, just more than five hours after the alarm had been raised. Its position on the seabed in some 80m (263ft) of water was confirmed to the French Prefecture Maritime de l'Atlantique by a fishing vessel which was in the area and recorded it on sonar.

The inquiry into the sinking is being undertaken by the French in conjunction with Ireland's Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

The Asgard IIwon many international awards during its career, having been designed and built by the late Jack Tyrrell of Arklow, Co Wicklow and commissioned by the late taoiseach, Charles J Haughey, in 1981.