11 September 2008

Asgard II lost at Sea

This morning very sad news came across the sea from France, sad for the whole of Ireland, and also for the large community of sailors, seafarers and tall ship fans everywhere.

It has been reported that the Asgard II (photo above), our country's beautiful sail training vessel, was lost at sea at 8.25 am local time (7.25 am Irish time) about twenty nautical miles off the French coast, south of Brittany and southwest of Belle-Île-en-Mer.

The two-masted brigantine had earlier been abandoned after taking on a lot of water, turning her into a floating hulk (see photo right).

The alarm was raised in total darkness shortly before 2.30 am this morning. Shortly after the vessel's Master, Captain Colm Newport, had no choice but to give orders to abandon ship. The five regular crew members and twenty trainees, most of them Irish, transferred to life-rafts (see photo left).

Captain Newport said that the vessel was abandoned in an orderly fashion and with no injuries, and that all 25 people were off the Asgard II in four or five minutes. They stayed alongside the stricken vessel while communicating with the French Coast Guard and sending a distress signal.

Within twenty minutes from the initial alarm, they had to move the life-rafts away from the vessel, which had water up to its deck at that stage.

Crew and trainees were rescued by the French Coast Guard who despatched two lifeboats and two helicopters to the scene.
They were taken to a hotel on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer.

In an interview with RTE Radio Captain Newport said that he has no idea what caused the ship to sink, adding that it would be foolish to speculate. He explained that there was a "sudden ingress of water", which caused the vessel to lose stability.
All those on board were now in contact with their people at home, were in warm clothes and being looked after well by the people on the French island. However, they had been through a traumatic event. (Being a sailor myself, I can well imagine how traumatic it was, especially for the young and inexperienced trainees...)

The Irish Ambassador to France, Anne Anderson, is traveling from Paris to Belle-Île-en-Mer to meet the crew and trainees.

It is still not clear what caused the loss of the Asgard II, and at this stage it is doubtful if it will be possible to salvage her, even though her last position has been documented. Should a salvage not be possible, it is further doubtful if - in the present recession Ireland experiences - there will be funds to build a replacement. However, the early 1980s were a difficult time for the Irish nation as well, but nevertheless the government still saw fit to build and commission the vessel.

The Asgard II is Ireland's official national sail training vessel. A beautiful traditional brigantine with her hull painted in a deep emerald green, she was designed and built in Arklow, Co. Wicklow by Jack Tyrrell and commissioned in March 1981 by the then Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey. She has a traditional figurehead in the form of a carving of Granuaile.
Her name was taken from the yacht Asgard (now preserved in Kilmainham Jail museum in Dublin), which played a special role in Irish history, in particular as the vessel that brought rifles for the Irish Volunteers from Germany to Ireland in preparation of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Owned by the Republic of Ireland, the Asgard II is a civilian-run training vessel and managed by Coiste an Asgard (chaired by Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea, TD), which is also a founding member of Sail Training International (STI), the organisers of the annual International Tall Ships' Race.

It fills me with great sadness to learn of her loss, as I remember her very well from many happy encounters at sea and here in the port of Waterford.
Three years ago, when Waterford hosted the start of the International Tall Ships' Race, it was the Asgard II (accompanied by the other two Irish tall ships Dunbrody and Jeannie Johnston) who led the Parade of Sails out of the port and down the river Suir to the race's official starting point at Dunmore East. It was a joy for me to see her leading a parade of 88 tall ships and vessels (28 of them large class A ships), as a sailor and as a member of the team that organised and ran the event.

In 2011 Waterford will host the same event again, and should a salvage of the Asgard II not be possible, she will be missed very much by many, including me,

The Emerald Islander.


For an update please see my entry from September 13th

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