Sinking of 'holy ship' halts bishop's protest plan


Plans by a controversial cleric to challenge an abortion ship off Dublin have gone up in smoke after his floating church sank due to a fire on board yesterday afternoon.

Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox had converted an 84-foot trawler into a "holy ship" and intended taking on the abortion ship, Aurora, run by the Woman on Waves group, which he believes is due in Irish waters again.

But his plans were dashed yesterday when a fire broke out on the vessel off the west coast, with three crewmen having to be winched to safety from the sinking trawler.

Bishop Cox had recently consecrated the trawler but yesterday evening was just relieved that the crewmen were safe.

"I had consecrated the boat as a floating church and it was my plan to travel around the coast and challenge the abortion ship which offers abortions offshore to women," he said. "I had got word that the ship was planning to return to Ireland and wanted to do something about it."

Skipper Donal O'Neill and crewmen Finbarr Harrington and Pat O'Neill left Kilronan on the Aran Islands before lunchtime, intending to travel to Blacksod Bay in north Mayo where further work was to be carried out on the boat.

But just off Slyne Head, near Clifden, a fire broke out between the engine room and the wheelhouse.

An electrical fault is believed to have been the cause of the blaze. Initially the crew managed to bring the fire under control, but were overpowered when the flames erupted once again. The crewmen then realised it was going to be impossible to contain the fire, and sent out an SOS.

They called the Aran Lifeboat which immediately put to sea and alerted the Shannon-based rescue helicopter.

The helicopter was at the scene within minutes and immediately began an emergency operation to evacuate the crew as it was clear the fire was out of control.

"The fire broke out after we were about an hour out from Kilronan. We managed to get it under control at first, but couldn't stop it when it suddenly broke out again and we had to call for help," said crewman Harrington.

One by one the crewmen were winched aboard the helicopter and flown to Knock. All escaped injury but were shaken by their experience.

"We are all fine but it is a great pity that the boat is lost," said crewman Harrington.

Bishop Cox rushed to Knock Airport to be with the crew.

He said the loss of the boat was regrettable, but he was just grateful that all three had emerged unscathed from the fire on board.

"I have to pay tribute to the members of the Aran Lifeboat and the Rescue Helicopter Service from Shannon.

"They did a wonderful job and thank God everybody is safe.

"The boat is sinking and that is a big setback but thank God there was no loss of life. I am going to pray now about where to go from here."