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Maritime Ireland Deserves a Tall Ship

30th June 2014
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Asgard II in happier times passing Blackrock Castle, Cork Harbour. The State sailing training vessel sank in the Bay of Biscay in 2008, all crew rescued. Although Insurance paid out the vessel has not been replaced and the money went into central exchequer funds. Photo: Bob Bateman
Maritime Ireland Deserves a Tall Ship

#tallship – You come across a reference to an island nation - the 20th largest in the world - that doesn't have a marine policy or a dedicated marine department, and you think it must be some kind of a joke. It's a ship of state without a captain, or a rudder. It adds insult to injury to discover that this same island nation was moved to the verge of bankruptcy after her inhabitants turned their backs on the ocean and invested too heavily in the land.

So much for living in a smart economy.

Not many people living in Ireland realise that it's the third biggest country in Europe, by virtue of her seabed territory of 220 million acres.

Ask any fisherman what EU membership did for our trawler fleet and you will get a quick answer. Ireland has two–thirds of European fishing waters and 3 per cent of the catch. That sell-out, as the fishing community saw it, was the beginning of the end of marine policy in Ireland.

We have in the past been able to blame a lot of our maritime ignorance on the British, with a little justification. Boat ownership by the 'native Irish' was restricted at times, and fishing permitted only by licence. But that was 400 years ago, so we're running out of excuses.

If you're searching for a recent symbol of this marine neglect, look no further than Asgard II. At 30 years old, the boat was at the end of her working life when she sank off the coast of France in 2008.

She was our maritime flagship, a national icon which had given 10,000 young people the chance to go to sea. The insurance money paid out and it went into central exchequer funds. The State showed no interest in replacing her. Until now perhaps?

There has been some sort of maritime awakening in official Ireland. In June, the Government hosted an Ocean Wealth conference declaring millions could be 'harnessed' from our seas in so many ways.

Separately, a new naval patrol vessel has arrived at a cost of E54m. Another one is expected next year. This month the Taoiseach announced he'd ordered a third.

Is it all coincidence or is Ireland moving towards a new marine game plan?

There's no doubting the public's interest in our seas.Just look at the interest in the maritime festivals around our coast this summer and the crowds that came to see Spain's 'Juan Sebastián de Elcano', the world's third largest Tall Ship in Dublin port in June.

Now there is fresh State impetus in the marine, there should in tandem be plans to replace Ireland's Tall Ship, a symbol of our maritime heritage and the possibilities offered in the seas that surround us.

Published in Tall Ships
Afloat.ie Team

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