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RNLI Safety Message is One That Everyone Should Take to Heart

11th January 2019
We are never too far from the water and Maritime Safety must be uppermost in the public mind We are never too far from the water and Maritime Safety must be uppermost in the public mind

Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney here ….

Ireland’s State commitment to maritime safety has been strongly questioned. Safety must not be taken casually and, at the start of a New Year, when most leisure craft are off the water, it is an appropriate time to reflect – and think….

Betelgeuse tragedy at Whiddy Island

The big maritime story this week has been the 40th commemoration of the Betelgeuse tragedy at Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay. It has been the focus of the national media, where maritime tragedy always invokes big coverage, but where regular maritime coverage is sadly lacking.

I focus on it because I was the first reporter, for RTE at the time, on the scene if that tragedy in Bantry and it is one I can never forget.

In my mind’s eye, as I write these words, I can still see that scene in the early hours of the morning of January 8, 1979, between 2 and 3 a,m., as I stood in the town square. Overhead the sky was red. There was a palpable sense of fear as explosions and flames leapt into the sky from nearby Whiddy Island where the huge oil tanker, Betelgeuse had exploded and broken apart. The sky reddened, as local people clustered together, hearing that 50 had been killed.

Later investigations would reveal serious shortcomings in safety issues……which became the renewed focus of attention this week. There have been changes and improvements and safety has become more focussed upon at all maritime levels. I was in Bantry at the commemoration ceremonies and it was clear that there remains a lot of anger about the tragedy and particularly about the safety issues.

I looked out across the flat, calm and pleasant waters of Bantry Bay in the mildest of January weather during the ceremonies and recalled sailing those waters in 12ft.Vagabond dinghies from Monkstown Bay Sailing Club, in company with the Bantry Club, whose premises were just behind me. I sailed there on the Bantry Longboat, part of the Atlantic Challenge, thought of times I spent on Whiddy Island, of boarding huge oil tankers from a pilot boat as they arrived in the Bay, climbing ladders lowered from the deck as I reported on shipping stories… and I recalled that awful early morning 40 years ago…

Access to the water

Access to the water is a wonderful opportunity in Ireland, where there is still a freedom to become involved, but that it must be used wisely. Leisure boating does allow people with no maritime experience or skills of any kind, to go afloat without adequate preparation. It is wise to be prepared, to learn, to be safe. Ashore, people walk the cliffs and the shoreline, fish from areas where they may not realise the dangers inherent in the location they are using. A New Year message from the lifeboats, RNLI is one that everyone should take to heart.

Listen to the Podcast below and why, as an island nation, “WE ARE NEVER TOO FAR AWAY FROM THE WATER” ……. Niamh Stephenson of the RNLI has been telling me why….

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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