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Gone Fishery Patrolling(saturdays Irish Times)

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  • Gone Fishery Patrolling(saturdays Irish Times)

    Gone fishery patrolling

    'LE Niamh', the most modern ship in the Naval Service, must enforce the quotas so resented by Irish fishermen. Ted Creedon spends a week with the crew at the heart of the action

    A broad band of silver light stretches across the sea, like a rippling highway, towards the full moon above the horizon. A rigid inflatable boat (RIB) from the fishery patrol vessel, LE Niamh, is momentarily silhouetted in the light as it speeds towards a British-registered fishing vessel half a mile away.

    The distance is covered in less than two minutes and 21-year-old Able Seaman Sharon Darby steers the RIB alongside the fishing boat as it wallows in the swell, 160 miles south-west of Ireland. It's a dangerous exercise in daylight but much more so at night.

    Sub Lt Adrian Hickey examines the vessel's rope-ladder before attempting to board. Faulty ladders have resulted in numerous incidents of naval officers falling into the sea.

    Satisfied, he judges the movement of both vessels before grasping the ladder and climbing on board, followed by the second team member. Boarding inspections can take up to an hour so, to save fuel, the RIB returns to LE Niamh and is winched aboard.

    On the bridge, officers and crew await the first radio report from the boarding party. Except for the dim lights of the radar and navigation screens the bridge area is in darkness. LE Niamh steers slowly in a wide circle around the fishing boat.

    Lookouts, with binoculars, scan the waters ahead for anything that might not show up on radar. There is always the danger of fishing-gear and nets being damaged or caught in the propellors, which would immobilise the ship.

    The radio crackles and Adrian Hickey makes his first report. The fishing boat is a "Britspan" - British-registered but operating from Spain. She left La Coruña a month ago and, according to her log, has 31 tonnes of fish on board.The crew consists of one Briton, four Spaniards, seven Portuguese and five Ukrainians.

    LE Niamh's commanding officer, Lt Cdr Jim Shaloo, instructs the boarding officer to examine and photograph the Ukrainians' passports. It would be easy for a fishing vessel to enter an Irish port with non-EU nationals who could simply disembark and vanish.

    Two of the Ukrainians have no documents. Their personal details are recorded but the men are not photographed. As the vessel is registered in the UK it will be up to British authorities to make follow-up inquiries when the incident is reported to them.

    The second part of the boarding involves the physical examination of the fish in the hold to compare with the logged catch. The vessel passes inspection and her logbook is stamped. It's the final boarding of the day and LE Niamh resumes her patrol.

    LÉ Niamh is the most modern ship in the Naval Service. Built in Devon, at a cost of €25 million, she was commissioned in September 2001. Essentially a warship, her primary function is fishery protection, though she would immediately abandon that role if called on to carry out a search-and-rescue mission or other duty. Recently, she brought Army officers and equipment to Monrovia, Liberia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there.

    There are five officers and 38 ratings on board, including five female ratings.

    Sharon Darby, from Kildare town, has been on board for more than two and a half years and is the longest-serving crew member. During that period she has been to Malta, India, the Far East and west Africa. Her duties include steering the ship, radar-plotting, and acting as lookout.

    In theory, non-commissioned personnel serve two years at sea followed by two years working ashore. The system is known as sea rotation. But it doesn't work in practice, according to the more senior ratings on board LE Niamh.

    They contend that many shore-based personnel rarely serve time at sea and are exempt from sea duty on personal, medical or other grounds. This is resented by the sea-going ratings, especially those with families, who claim they must spend longer periods at sea because others are not serving their time.

    In his dayroom Lt Cdr Shaloo, from Dublin, studies a fax from the naval base at Haulbowline, Co Cork. A former international swimmer, he opted for a career in the Naval Service over one in architecture. The fax shows the position and registration numbers of fishing vessels in his patrol area.

    All fishing boats of more than 24 metres in length have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), also called a "black box", on board. Every two hours this instrument sends a signal, via satellite, to monitoring centres in the vessel's country of origin.

    That information is then relayed to computers at Haulbowline, giving them a graphic location image of those fishing vessels in Irish waters.The same system applies to Irish fishing vessels operating in foreign waters.

    Because of computer malfunction the information on the fax is more than 24 hours old. LE Niamh is now operating blindly, in terms of patrol efficiency, so Shaloo relies on his 22 years at sea to plan his next move.

    In the wardroom, off-duty officers are enjoying a Pat Shortt video while other crew members watch Champions League football on satellite TV.

    By dawn LE Niamh is patrolling the rich fishing grounds of the Porcupine Bank. The morning brings rainclouds, heavy seas and strengthening winds. In the communications room, Honor Murphy, from Crosshaven, Co Cork, records the BBC's sea area forecast. She is in regular contact with the naval base and other naval ships at sea.

    She can also communicate with the Air Corps Maritime Patrol aircraft from Baldonnel and record its detailed sightings of fishing vessels in LE Niamh's patrol area.

    Her uncle was a fisherman and her father is a shipwright in Crosshaven. After leaving school she thought of being a firefighter but joined the Naval Service instead. Having completed five years, she has just signed on for a further four.

    The bridge radar has picked up a contact and a boarding party is put on standby. LE Niamh bears down on the vessel at 18 knots. She can reach speeds of 25 knots on both engines if required but normally operates on one to save fuel. As she nears the fishing boat the vessel's registration number is noted and entered into the computer database.

    Within seconds, LE Niamh's executive officer, Lt Cathal Power, has a complete profile of the vessel which includes her name, country of registration, age, weight, length and name of owner and skipper. The database also shows when she was last sighted and boarded and if she has any record of offences.

    Fishing vessels convicted of offences in Irish waters are guaranteed regular inspections. This vessel was last boarded a month earlier and has a clean record. LE Niamh continues on patrol and the boarding party is stood down.

    On the after-deck navigation officer Alan Vaughan is examining pieces of deep-water coral netted by an Irish trawler. The coral will be sent to the Martin Ryan Institute at UCG for study and analysis.

    In the equipment room, near the after-deck, members of the boarding party remove their drysuits and return to normal duty. This room also serves as the ship's only smoking area but, with the introduction of new regulations on smoking, is about to lose that status and smoking will be restricted to the after-deck.

    In the galley, chef Tom Hegarty, from Co Cork, is busily preparing lunch.The quality of the food and cooking on LE Niamh is excellent. The ship has more than a month's supply of provisions in stores and cold rooms. For dinner, later, there's a choice of roast beef or lasagne followed by apple crumble and ice-cream.

    "Chips, chips and more chips! That's the most popular dish, especially with the younger crew members," Hegarty volunteers.

    And is he inclined to cook when at home on leave?

    "Inclined? I'm not inclined at all - I'm told to, by my wife and two daughters!" he declares.

    The boarding party is again placed on stand-by as LE Niamh approaches a French-registered fishing vessel. The decision is made to board her and the inspection team's first report indicates that all is in order.

    The vessel is fishing with gill-nets. Shaloo decides to inspect the nets for mesh sizes. The crew begin to haul the nets, which are attached to buoys and suspended in the sea like an enormous tennis-court net. Gill-nets are often lost in storms and sink to the bottom where they will continue to catch fish, and other sea creatures, indefinitely.

    Following a lengthy examination of the nets the inspection officer reports that all meshes are well above minimum regulation size. The amount of fish in the hold tallies with the log and the boarding party returns.

    Down in the sick bay, Finola Lafferty, from Co Derry, attends to a crewman who has injured his wrist during the inspection trip.

    The most senior member of the enlisted crew is Dubliner Muiris Mahon who has been in the Naval Service for 27 years. As LE Niamh's coxswain, his duties include steering the ship during all boardings and when entering or leaving port as well as general shipboard administration.

    As a member of the naval diving section he was involved in the recovery of 38 bodies following the Air India disaster, off the Irish coast, in 1985. He is reluctant to talk about the event and doesn't reveal that he was awarded a medal for bravery under exceptional circumstances. These included repelling sharks from bodies at the scene.

    Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.

  • #2
    By nightfall LE Niamh is on a north-east course in heavy seas. Waves break over the bows and spray lashes the bridge windows. Suddenly, a group of men, armed with Browning nine-millimetre automatic pistols, bursts on to the bridge and begins shouting instructions.

    Three of LE Niamh's crew are forced, none too gently, to lie on the deck, where they are searched and then handcuffed. It is only an exercise and some participants are understandably amused. But it is an integral part of the crew's training to be prepared to board vessels suspected of criminal activities, such as drug- smuggling, in Irish waters.

    Overnight the weather has deteriorated and, by dawn, visibility is down to less than half a mile. An inspection party has boarded a French-registered fishing vessel. She has been fishing for six days and her catch includes more than a tonne of monkfish, a high-value species.

    Irish vessels are limited by quota to half a tonne of monkfish per month, while some foreign-registered vessels can legally catch 20 tonnes in the same period. Each member state manages its own quota. While the Irish quota system applies to individual vessels some countries' quotas are assigned to co-operatives. The current quota system is deeply resented by Irish fishermen. Some admit that the only way they can make a living is by breaking the law.

    Privately, many Naval Service officers are sympathetic to the grievances of Irish fishermen.

    Some 1,950 fishing vessels were boarded and inspected in Irish waters in 2003. Of the 119 warnings issued, 74 were to Irish vessels. Of the 35 vessels detained for alleged breaches, of fishing regulations, 27 were Irish or Irish- registered with Spanish crews.

    Twenty miles west of the Blaskets LE Niamh's inspection team approaches a British-registered, Spanish-crewed fishing boat. Conditions are very rough with heavy seas and the fishing boat is bucking like a steel bronco, making it difficult for the RIB to get alongside.

    On reaching her the boarding officer reports that the rope-ladder is in poor repair and too short. Boarding here is risky and a second attempt to board, through a side door on the vessel, proves too dangerous. Shaloo orders the RIB to return.

    Cathal Power contacts the fishing vessel on VHF radio and instructs its skipper to proceed to the calmer waters of Dingle Bay for inspection. Language barriers cause communication problems. Eventually, the order is understood and the vessel complies.

    LE Niamh steers in a tight arc to create a sheltered area for the returning RIB. At reduced speed the ship is now rolling violently and the recovery of the RIB requires great skill by the winch operator. A pair of dolphins race alongside the ship. The sighting will be noted and passed on to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group as a matter of routine.

    Later, in Dingle Bay, the fishing vessel is boarded and inspected. A warning is issued to the skipper for having a defective ladder and this is noted in the vessel's logbook. A repeat offence may result in its detention.

    After lunch a string of coloured buoys is dropped into the sea and LE Niamh steams in a circle around them. Leading Seaman Gary Browne and his team load up the starboard machine-gun for gunnery practice. Before the exercise begins a radio warning is issued to all ships in the area.

    The gun crew fire hundreds of rounds of tracer bullets, in short bursts, at the target buoys which are rising and falling in the waves several hundred metres away. Some of the shooting is impressively accurate given the conditions.

    Four days and almost 1,000 miles covered. Since leaving Cork, 13 vessels have been boarded, one warning issued and no detentions made. The routine monthly patrol will continue for another week.

    LE Niamh melts into the gathering darkness as she leaves Dingle Bay for open seas and deeper waters

    Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


    • #3
      It was in the Times not the indo, all sounds great but just reminds us how unmilitary NS routine is at this stage, skillfull and proffessional yes but without a wartime function.
      "It is a general popular error to imagine that loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for it's welfare" Edmund Burke


      • #4
        C-Q, I'm not sure I agree with you, wartime according to the White Paper is a contingency and the NS, as a fleet, hold annual manoeuvres for this contingency.

        Other functions, such as Liberia, come out of a combination of general training and contingency training.



        • #5
          I agree IAS,the skills irish naval personell have been exercising in Routine boardings over the last 20 years plus are only nowdays being learnt by USN and RN boarding parties,who consider it a big deal. Indeed the RN frigates have in the gulf recieved major modifications to make operating with inflatables or Semi Rigid boats less complicated.

          Our real time computerised satellite monitoring of fishing vessels is admired worldwide,for its intelligence gathering capabilities. We know where every lisensed(and unlisensed) fishing vessel in irish waters is at any time..the Naval forces in the Gulf require surveillance aircraft to achieve even a small percentage of what we are capable of,and would give their right arm for something similar over there.

          As far as current naval warfare goes,for the size of our operation,we are not left lacking. For our current role,while we lack much of the equipment we require,the training and contingency level is equal to that of any other Navy.

          Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


          • #6
            Usual press picture of the NS with all the right things being said and done! Nobody seems to want to write about the seemingly endless steaming watches when nothing every happens and the crew go looney tunes and have shaving foam wars and perform endless days aof chipping scarapping and allleyways and scrubbing decks....midnight feasts and......bitching matches in the of football ashore between the messes where the ball is an optional extra.....loading rations and carrying out endless exercises.......abandon ship drills and action stations.....painting the ships sides and entertaining visiting dignitaries and boring duties along side.

            These are all part of the life aboard ship but for the most part are forgotten about!
            Covid 19 is not over's still very real..Hand Hygiene, Social Distancing and Masks.. keep safe


            • #7
              But this is always done as you should know murf,BEFORE the media arrive aboard.
              I always remember from my days at sea the boredom of a passage in fog through the Dover seperation scheme...40 miles in 4 hours....

              Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


              • #8
                Last edited by posiedon; 30 January 2004, 19:52.


                • #9
                  Yeah ithought he was gone...that was the program bemoaning the lot of the NS......filmed in his unpainted sitting room.....

                  Not much call for 'heroes' in civvy street.
                  Covid 19 is not over's still very real..Hand Hygiene, Social Distancing and Masks.. keep safe


                  • #10
                    Goldie, yes the Navy do seem to have a good monitoring system, but the reason they can track everything is (as far as I know) that all private boats are required to have a transponder on them - This can't be enforced in the Gulf.

                    If someone wanted to sneak in without a transponder and take their chances landing somewhere on the southwest coast there is a good chance they would get away with it. Correct me if I'm wrong.


                    • #11
                      True...But the fact is we can still monitor all vessels with the black box(you can read about it above)while the forces in the gulf do not have the capacity to even do that.

                      Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


                      • #12
                        too right murph not to mention cleaning the heads every morning and hoovering the senior ncos mess while trying not to knock over the cox's tea. oh the endless joys...... it would nearly encourage you to join......
                        There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today Chatfield
                        Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty GCB OM GCVO


                        • #13
                          Lads Lads.....what's all this talk of chipping, cleaning up, hoovering etc? You should have become an SBA! Only problem....all that chipping that the seamen used to do, kept me awake while having my mid-morning lie-down.