Crew safe as Asgard II sinks off France


Irish and French authorities are to carry out a joint investigation into the sinking of sail training vessel, Asgard II, off the French coast in the early hours of this morning.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) will be co-operating with its French counterpart on the inquiry into the sinking. An MCIB spokesman said that it was too early to speculate on the cause, but interviews would be held with the ship’s master, crew and trainees.

An underwater investigation may not be necessary if enough information can be gleaned at that stage, and any decision on the vessel’s possible salvage would not be taken by the MCIB, he said.

The Irish ambassador to France was travelling to Belle Ile in the Bay of Biscay today to meet the crew of the Asgard II. The crew of the vessel sent out several distress signals last night after it began taking on water near the port of La Rochelle.

The 20 trainees and five crew were eventually forced to evacuate the ship in two lifeboats in the early hours of the morning.

They were rescued by a French coastguard vessel and taken to Belle Ile in the Bay of Biscay where they were described as safe and well and "in good spirits".

The ship's captain Colm Newport said he had no idea what had happened to the ship, but that it had suffered a "severe ingress" of water at about 3am "ship's time" which contributed to critical instability.

The crew and trainees were evacuated in an "orderly fashion" and were off the vessel in "four to five minutes", he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One,Mr Newport said it had been a "traumatic" experience for those involved, but they were now being looked after very well in a hotel and were in touch with their families back in Ireland.

Asked if he had any idea whether the ship had hit something that had resulted in its sinking, he said he had "no idea" and that it would have to be investigated.

“It would be very foolish of me to speculate on this matter.”

The vessel sank about 10 miles off the coast at about 9.30am. It had been sailing from Falmouth in Britain to La Rochelle on a routine training trip.

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said it was "too early to say" what had happened to the vessel but that it would be fully investigated.

"We will have to get the experts in. But once the safe, that is the important thing. Everybody got off and they were never in danger." It is understood that weather conditions at the time were "moderate", the Department said.

"Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea would like to compliment the crew of the Asgard and the French for their co-operation in ensuring that all on board were brought to safety."

The Asgard llwas launched in Arklow, Co Wicklow in 1981 by the late former taoiseach Charles Haughey.