'Asgard II' sinking report released


An investigation into the loss of the sail training vessel Asgard II more than two years ago off the northwest French coast has found the ship may have collided with an object in the water.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) today published its report into the sinking in the Bay of Biscay on September 11th, 2008.

It was carrying five crew and 20 trainee sailors.

Minister for Defence Tony Killeen said that while the findings into the cause of the sinking were inconclusive, the report recognised that the vessel was equipped and maintained in excess of the statutory requirements.

Higher safety standards were in place on the ship than those required by law.

Mr Killeen also noted the acknowledgement of the leadership shown by the ship’s master, Capt Colm Newport and the commandment of his and the crew’s handling of the emergency.

Video footage taken by an Irish diving team earlier in the summer confirms that the keel sustained impact which caused fracture to the timbers.

Some 25 crew and trainees were successfully rescued when the ship began to take in water at 1am while en route from Falmouth in England to the French port of La Rochelle.

The crew attempted to pump water out without success, a Mayday was issued, and the ship was abandoned at about 1.50am.

One life raft failed during the evacuation when its floor gave way, and those trainees on board had to be transferred to the other two life rafts. Two French lifeboats then took all 25 from the life rafts to Belle-Ile.

The failed life raft had been serviced, and it is understood the investigators may recommend a review of service standards and methodology.

The investigation is expected to compliment the professional and calm manner in which the ship’s master, Capt Colm Newport, and the crew dealt with the emergency and with the high standard of safety training which ensured there was no loss of life or injury during the incident.

Training drills had already prepared the student sailors, and there was more than sufficient safety equipment on board.

The investigation is also expected to focus on the fact that the wooden brigantine was classified as a cargo, rather than passenger, vessel and was not required to have a double hull.

The marine board’s investigation was delayed to facilitate interviews with the Irish diving team which recovered items from the wreck several months ago – and was criticised by Coiste an Asgard, the Government’s sail-training organisation, for doing so.

The dive team recovered the ship’s wheel, bell and compass to return to the State, and recorded video footage of the hull lying in 83m of water west of Belle-Ile.

Former minister for defence Willie O’Dea had reversed an original promise to try to salvage the ship, and an insurance payout of €3.8 million was transferred to the Department of Finance.

The sail-training brigantine, designed by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow and commissioned in 1981, participated in many international tall ships events, and represented Ireland around the world. Its remit was to offer people from all backgrounds an opportunity to spend time at sea.

It was due to participate in Le Grande Pavois festival, at which Ireland was also represented by the Naval Service ship LE Niamh. The brigantine was due to have maintenance work carried out in the French port.

Capt Newport was faced with a serious stability situation due to the rapid ingress of water.

The 20 trainees filled three life rafts in four to five minutes, and Capt Newport and two crew stayed on board for about 20 minutes to maintain radio contact with French rescue service.

In last year’s budget, the national sail-training programme was axed as a cost-cutting measure, in spite of a campaign to raise or replace the ship.