However, not everyone is so lucky today. A while ago I heard on the radio that once again a fishing trawler is in distress off the coast of Ireland, this time about 40 miles north-west off the coast of Donegal (in the far North-West of the island).
She is the 33m long British registered "The Shark" from Scotland, but commanded by a Spanish Master and crewed entirely with Spanish sailors. According to the reports a serious fire has broken out in the vessel's galley and she has difficulties bringing it under control in the rough sea conditions of the area.
The Irish Coastguard helicopter from Sligo was called out and already airlifted nine non-essential crew members to Carrickfin Airport in Donegal. Seven other crew members remained on board to fight the fire, while a lifeboat from Arranmore was standing by at the scene.
For further assistance the LE Eithne, flagship of the Irish Naval Service (and the largest of her 8 patrol vessels), was dispatched as well.
After reaching "The Shark" at about 1800 h local time, LE Eithne sent a seven-men strong naval fire-fighting team across, while five more crew members of the fishing vessel were transferred to the lifeboat. The Naval Service reported later that the fire has been extinguished and a naval fire watch will remain on board over night. No one was injured in the incident.
This is good news and will please everyone on the island tonight. There is certainly material damage to the trawler, and it might well have to be towed to the nearest port for assessment and repairs. But the most important thing is that no lives were lost and no one was hurt.
Such is not always the case. Despite a well-organised system of Coastguard and RNLI lifeboat stations around Ireland, there is hardly a year without lives and vessels being lost at sea. Only a year ago two well-known local fishing boats from our area (on the southern coast of Ireland) sank in heavy weather on the same day, with a total loss of seven lives. This was - and still is - a great shock for the close-knit communities of fishermen along the coast. One of them was a new and very modern vessel, and it is still not clear why it sank so suddenly and without sending a distress call over the radio.
We live now in a highly sophisticated world with much modern technology, and many walks of life have become quite safe and almost risk-free. But the sea is still the most powerful and uncontrollable part of our planet, covering 71% of the Earth's surface (a fact so often forgotten by most people). Anyone who has ever been at sea will know how difficult it can be to keep a ship afloat and steady, especially in rough weather conditions.
During my active service in the Navy I experienced many such situations, including a severe gale (force 11) in a destroyer and several gales (force 10) in frigates and smaller vessels. This was not easy and required all our wits and skills. But compared with most fishing boats our naval vessels were giants. So my heart goes out every time I hear of sailors in distress, and I always hope that they will return safe and sound.
I am not a church-goer and do not belong to any organised religion, but on days like this the tune and words of our traditional Navy hymn come to me, as clear as they sound in every church and chapel around the coast of our islands:
- Eternal Father, strong to save,
- Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
- Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
- Its own appointed limits keep;
- Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
- For those in peril on the sea!
The Emerald Islander