24 July 2017

'A major tragedy averted': 30 saved from Kinsale shipwreck

The photograph above captures the moment that our Kinsale and Courtmacsherry Harbour lifeboat volunteers saved 30 people from a sinking training vessel off the Cork coast.

Watch footage from this outstanding rescue here:

Kinsale and Courtmacsherry Harbour lifeboat crews were called out on 24 July 2013 when the crew of a 42m Dutch sailing ship found they were being driven onto rocks. Astrid had lost power just before noon, leaving her at the mercy of strong southerly winds off the Sovereign Islands near Kinsale.

In force 5-6 winds and a 2m swell, Astrid was blown onto the rocks, suffered a damaged hull and started taking on water - she was sinking quickly. But the group of young sailors aboard stayed calm and listened to their skipper's instructions.

Within minutes, Kinsale's B class Atlantic 75 lifeboat was on scene, closely followed by the Courtmacsherry Harbour all-weather Trent class lifeboat.

Kinsale Helm, Liam O'Connell, got close enough to the sinking tall ship to allow Crew Member Nick Searls to jump aboard. Realising Astrid was beyond saving, he reassured the sailors and helped 12 of them onto the inshore lifeboat with the help of Crew Member Jim Grennan. The 12 were passed onto a dive boat and then transferred on to another vessel, Spirit of Oysterhaven.

By now, Astrid's deck was disappearing beneath the waves. Her crew had deployed a large liferaft, anticipating that they may need to abandon their vessel. So, while their crew mates were being ferried to safety, the remaining 18 got aboard the liferaft, which was then towed out to calmer seas by the Kinsale lifeboat crew. The tow rope was then passed to the harbour master's boat. Then the sailors were helped aboard the larger Courtmacsherry lifeboat, where Coxswain Sean O'Farrell was acting as on-scene commander.

The liferaft with 18 of the sailors onboard was towed out to calmer seasPhoto: Mike MacSweeney/Provision
The liferaft with 18 of the sailors onboard was towed out to calmer seas

The Courtmacsherry crew brought the sailors back to Kinsale Harbour, where they were assessed by medical teams.

Lifeboats from Ballycotton and Crosshaven had also headed to the scene and Coast Guard helicopters from Waterford and Shannon flew to the area - but fortunately, the Kinsale and Courtmacsherry crews had quickly managed to get everyone to safety.

'It was a great team effort'

Coxswain Sean O'Farrell said: 'I want to praise the quick thinking of the skipper and the crew from the Astrid. They kept calm and did everything we asked them to do.'

Courtmacsherry Harbour Coxswain Sean O'FarrellPhoto: RNLI/Nigel Millard
Courtmacsherry Harbour Coxswain Sean O'Farrell

All 30 people were safe: a proud moment for the lifeboat volunteers. 'Everyone was very fortunate,' adds Sean. 'We were able to get them to safety quickly and a major tragedy was averted. To be able to recover 30 people was a great day for everyone involved. It was a great team effort.'


More on abandoning ship

The Astrid's crew did exactly the right thing in deploying their liferaft and preparing to abandon ship.

If your vessel is sinking, a liferaft dramatically increases your chance of survival. It helps to prevent cold water shock (when entered dry) and hypothermia, and it keeps you and your crew together.

Read more on how to abandon ship.