Ireland's most famous sail training vessel, the Asgard II, has sunk off the coast of France. The five crew and 20 trainees on board abandoned ship early this morning after issuing distress calls last night. It is not yet know if the boat will be recoverable.
The 27-year-old brigantine began taking in water overnight, and after repeated mayday calls, began to lower crew into liferafts for evacuation. At 2.20am, UK Marine Coastguard in Kinloss picked up a distress signal from the vessel.
The Asgard II was heading to La Rochelle in France from Falmouth in Cornwall to effect minor maintenance, and was due to take part in the La Rochelle Boat Show, where Ireland is being showcased as a major cruising destination.
By 8.25am this morning French time, it was reported that the water was up to deck level on the Asgard, and she was recorded as lost. Defence forces spokesman Commandant Fergal Purcell was quoted as saying it was too early to know whether or not the Asgard could be recovered.
The boat went down 20 miles off the French coast, and the crew and trainees were all transferred safely to the nearby island of Belle Ile. The trainees were nearing the end of a 10-night voyage, for which each would have paid 500.
The Asgard was commissioned in 1981 in Arklow, and has been Ireland's premier sail training vessel ever since. She was named after Erskine Childers yacht the Asgard, which took part in gun-running during Ireland's war of independence, and then went on to become Ireland's first sail training vessel.Raise the Asgard - Afloat's 2008 online petition