Boat drifting off Skellig Michael days after deemed unseaworthy

Court told eight people aboard vessel in ‘deep sea’ though craft bereft of passenger licence

World heritage site Skellig Michael: an inspector had spotted “quite a number of defects” in the boat found drifting north of the island. Photograph: David Sleator

World heritage site Skellig Michael: an inspector had spotted “quite a number of defects” in the boat found drifting north of the island. Photograph: David Sleator

 

A boat was drifting in deep sea waters north of the Skellig Michael world heritage site and its sister island, with passengers on board – just six days after an inspector from the Department of the Marine warned the skipper it was unseaworthy, a court has heard.

Cahersiveen District Court was told on Thursday there were eight passengers on board the Pace Arrow 111, on May 21st, 2014, when it was seen by other Skellig boatmen to be in difficulty and drifting “north of the Skelligs” .

Six days earlier, on May 15th, a Department of Transport Inspector had arrived down to Ballinskelligs Pier to look at the vessel, which had applied for a renewal of its passenger licence to operate to the Skellig Islands.

The inspector had spotted “quite a number of defects” in the boat which would have rendered it unseaworthy, State solicitor Aidan Judge told the court.

The skipper, Sean Feehan snr, was made aware of this and he was told he was not to go to sea until the faults were addressed and the remedial work carried out.

“But the boat was brought to deep sea out to the Skelligs with eight passengers on board,” Mr Judge said. The boat had no passenger boat licence.

Fuel spent

Two other Skelligs boat men would give evidence, the State Solicitor said. They included one skipper who saw the Pace Arrow 111 drifting with its passengers on board and knew it was in difficulty. The skipper went over to Mr Feehan who told him he was out of diesel. The other boatman gave him diesel but Mr Feehan could not restart the engine.

A number of Skellig boatmen managed between them to transfer and divide the passengers, who were wearing life jackets, to bring them to the mainland.

The owner and the skipper of the Pace Arrow 111 were summonsed on two charges each, but the question of jurisdiction on both charges had to be decided, Mr Judge said.

The owner Gary Feehan, of Dungeagan, Ballinskelligs, is charged with operating without a licence “in the waters near the Skelligs” on May 21st, 2014, contrary to the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Safety Acts. A second charge against him relates to the seaworthiness of the vessel.

The skipper on the day, Gary Feehan’s father, Seán Feehan, also known as John Paul Feehan or Sean Feehan snr, of Dungeagan, faces the same charges.

Their solicitor, Pádraig O’Connell, said his clients would be pleading not guilty and would “totally refute the allegations”.

Judge James O’Connor asked Mr Judge if it was the case that “despite a warning from the department six days earlier, the vessel went to sea in an unseaworthy condition, and without a licence,” and he was told this was the case.

The judge said he was declining jurisdiction in both matters and was adjourning the matter for a book of evidence to be prepared and sent to the DPP for direction.