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Adjournment Debate. - Dunmore East (Waterford) Salvage Operation.

Wednesday, 28 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 462 No. 3

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Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally I am glad to have the opportunity of raising this tragic matter on the Adjournment this evening. To date it would appear I am having more success than the Department of the Marine in having the vessel raised.

I am very disturbed at the manner in which the Department has handled this tragic affair, and particularly by the insensitivity of the Minister and his Department to the suffering and grieving of the families involved. I know the fathers of the two missing seamen. I spent some time with one of the families missing a son and their only remaining hope is that his body is trapped on board that vessel under water. They want it retrieved and buried and to put this awful tradedy behind them.

It gives me no pleasure to raise this matter but I have made several attempts to contact the Minister over the past week or so, all to no avail. I have been left with no alternative but to endeavour to get some answers here about the inept performance of everyone concerned with this sorry mess. Having chased the Minister for a number of days I was told eventually by his [938] Department's press office that the contract to lift the vessel had been awarded to a Dundalk company, and operations would commence on Saturday last, four days ago. Yet to date there has been no sign of anybody and perhaps there will not be.

Prior to my conversation with that departmental press office I had been informed by our marine emergency services that, in selecting a company to carry our this operation, availability would be a major factor and a decision would not be taken based on cost alone. Somebody somewhere has made a big mistake. The closing date for tenders was 20 February. It is reasonable to assume — because of the urgency involved — the contract was awarded on 21 February, almost eight days ago.

Why did it take so long in the first place for the Department to seek tenders? Why has the Minister prolonged the agony not alone of those families but of the entire community in Dunmore East? I do not want to hear any lame excuses this evening about bad weather, breakdowns or the like. It want positive action to alleviate suffering and distress.

I am informed there is an operator in Waterford city who could undertake this task quite easily or, alternatively, some of the larger trawlers in Dunmore East. I plead with the Minister to give the go-ahead immediately to somebody to carry out this operation.

I appeal to him not to insist on the Jenalisa being returned to Dunmore East, as has been suggested, there being many other places to which it can be brought. The people of Dunmore East have suffered enough. They do not want to see this vessel again. It is merely a reminder of this awful tragedy.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne (Wexford): I support the comments of my party colleague from Waterford. As the Minister will be aware, the fishermen in the south-east are a very close-knit community and are extremely perturbed and annoyed at the continuing delay in having the Jenalisa salvaged.

[939] The families of the lost fishermen and others involved want to know why there are so many excuses for the continuing delay from the Department of the Marine. The Jenalisa was located by a joint Navy-Garda sub-aqua team on 8 February. Twenty days later — despite repeated promises by the Department — no action has been taken to raise the vessel.

Relatives of Niall Power and Peter Nolan are very anxious that the vessel be raised as speedily as possible in the hope of finding their bodies on board. This delay is causing their families much distress and anxiety. In addition, the people of Dunmore East had been promised a salvage vessel would arrive there on Saturday last to commence raising operations, but it did not arrive. Will the Minister explain what happened and why these operations were not initiated?

Will the Minister investigate other options immediately, such as the return of the Navy team to undertake the raising of the Jenalisa? I understand it has the requisite expertise and powers to undertake this task. Will he respond immediately to the calls of the people of Dunmore East? The families of the missing men and others have suffered enough already through the loss of three loved ones without being subjected to the ordeal of wondering whether the two remaining bodies are on board. I know the Minister has taken a personal interest in the matter but I appeal to him to put all hands on deck immediately to ensure this vessel is raised forthwith to allay the stress and fears of the families of the missing men and the local community.

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett As the House is aware the fishing vessel Jenalisa was lost off Brownstown Head on 4 February 1996, the body of one fisherman having been recovered by another fishing vessel on that day. The other two crew members are missing, [940] presumed dead. There is a strong likelihood they were trapped below decks when the vessel was lost.

First, I extend my most sincere sympathy to the families of the three lost fishermen. I am particularly conscious of the anguish of the relatives of the two fishermen whose bodies have not yet been recovered. I assure the House I will do everything within my power to bring this period of pain for them to a close as soon as is humanly possible. We also need to recall the continuing pain of the relatives of the six fishermen lost in the Carrickatine, which was not found in spite of the most extensive sea and subsurface search ever carried out by our marine emergency services.

I would like to recount for the House the sequence of events since the loss of the Jenalisa on 4 February. The families of the two lost fishermen deserve a full account of the activities of the emergency and investigatory services to date and the plans for the future. I hope that my statement will reassure all concerned that the matter is being pursued with due expedition.

The vessel was reported lost on 4 February and was located on the seabed on 8 February. In the meantime there was an intensive search for bodies using Irish marine emergency service coastal units lifeboats and other fishing vessels. The Jenalisa was located on the seabed three miles south west of Brownstown Head on 8 of February. Naval Service divers, under the direction of the marine emergency service, began an immediate search for the bodies in the vicinity of the vessel. In the meantime the surface and shore search for bodies continued, as there was no certainty that the bodies were trapped on board the vessel. The underwater search was severely hampered by bad weather and other dangerous conditions, particularly the fishing nets which lay around the vessel and were a particular hazard for divers operating in very constrained visibility. While the primary purpose of the underwater search was to retrieve any bodies which might have been trapped [941] in or near the vessel, a secondary objective was to examine the state and condition of the vessel with a view to ascertaining the cause of its loss. In addition to on site examination by Naval Service divers, video recording of the hull and other sections of the vessel were made at the direction of the marine surveyor I appointed to carry out the official investigation into the loss of the vessel.

In view of the failure of the diving parties to penetrate sections of the vessel where, it was considered, the bodies might be trapped and the recommendation to me on 16 February by the marine surveyor that the vessel be raised, I immediately directed that tenders be sought to raise the vessel. The specification of the tender, in terms of the method by which the vessel would be raised, the location of delivery etc. were agreed with the investigating marine surveyor and the tenders issued the same day I approved that action. The investigating marine surveyor is a statutory officer. Tenders for the salvage operation were received on 20 February, were reviewed in my Department, in consultation with the investigating surveyor, and a contract was placed on the next day, 21 February 1996. Urgent clearance was also sought and obtained from the Government contracts committee prior to the placing of the contract with North East Diving Services Ltd.

The terms of the agreement with the contractor were for the salvage vessel to arrive on 24 February but weather and technical difficulties delayed its arrival. It was originally expected to arrive in Dunmore East on Saturday, 24 February, then on the following Monday; it emerged later that further difficulties, including insurance problems meant that the salvage vessel would not be on site until well into the week beginning 4 March 1996. Officials of my Department reviewed the position with the contractor today. It was made clear that, in view of these delays, the terms of the agreement had been breached and that there was no option but to regard the agreement as terminated.

[942] I am advised that alternative arrangements have now been made with the firm objective of commencing salvage operations by Sunday next 3 March, weather permitting.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally Too late, there is an operator in Waterford who could do it tomorrow.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I wonder why people try to play politics.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally Nobody is playing politics.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I am trying to be serious about a very difficult matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy Let us hear the Minister out.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I am trying to shed light on the matter for the Deputy but I advise him to stop playing politics and to hold his tongue.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally I tried to contact the Minister several times.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy did not. I am around the House and the Deputy can contact me any time.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally I telephoned the Minister's office on at least six occasions.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I was in the House yesterday, I have been here all day today and the Deputy did not come near me.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy Let the interruptions cease and let the Minister conclude his statement.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I object to people playing politics with a serious issue — to say that weather does not matter is absolute and utter nonsense and shows complete ignorance of the facts.

[943]Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally I did not say that and I am not playing politics with this very serious matter.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I take this matter very seriously.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy This delicate matter should not give rise to acrimony.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett To say that weather does not matter in trying to carry out a salvage operation of this nature shows complete ignorance of the facts.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally I did not say that.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy did and it will be on the record, he said he did not want to hear about bad weather.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy The Minister to conclude his statement.

[944]Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I am advised that alternative arrangements have now been made with the firm objective of commencing salvage operations by Sunday next, 3 March, weather permitting.

I sincerely regret the delay in the commencement of the salvage operation. I appreciate how this is adding to the anguish of the relatives of the lost fishermen but I do not accept that the delay is attributable to my Department. I am confident that the alternative arrangements which are currently being put in place will result in the commencement of raising the vessel on Sunday next. My Department has informed the families of these developments and will maintain close contact with them as the operation unfolds.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 February 1996.


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