ON THE EVE of the arrival off Co Mayo of the pipelaying ship Solitaire, Shell EP Ireland has asked four Mayo fishermen to move their gear from Broadhaven Bay.
However, the Garda says it has responded to a request from one of the four fishermen, Pat O’Donnell, to provide protection for him and his gear if requested.
The Solitaire , described as the world’s largest pipelaying ship, had to abandon attempts to lay an offshore pipe last summer. It is scheduled to complete renewed attempts to lay the pipe from Broadhaven Bay out to the wellhead by the end of August.
One and “possibly two” Naval Service ships have been deployed to assist the Garda amid anticipated protests.
The ship is expected to arrive off Co Mayo hours after a Bord Pleanála hearing into the onshore pipeline completes its work in Belmullet after an 18-day sitting.
Mr O’Donnell, who is a Shell To Sea supporter and has concerns about the impact of the Corrib gas discharge pipe on the marine environment, reported damage to some of his pots yesterday to Belmullet Garda station.
Two weeks ago one of his boats was sunk in an alleged boarding by armed men. During the Solitaire ’s visit last year he was arrested twice by gardaí, but was released shortly before a court hearing challenging the terms of his detention.
A letter sent by Shell EP Ireland yesterday to Mr O’Donnell, his two brothers Martin and Tony and son Jonathan asks them to remove their gear temporarily to a safe location or it may be obliged to do same. The letter offers “fair and equitable” compensation for disruption to fishing activities.
Mr O’Donnell, his two brothers and his son have 3,000 crab pots in Broadhaven Bay. Mr O’Donnell told The Irish Times he had “no wish for any conflict with Shell” but had asked the company to “demonstrate its lawful authority to remove his gear”.
While Shell holds a foreshore licence for the offshore pipelaying work, the O’Donnells hold fishing licences, and the fishermen’s legal advisers say the company has no legal authority to remove fishing gear.
They are not party to an agreement between local fishermen and Shell which involves compensation for members of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association.
Under a notice by the Department of Transport, all vessels are required to “keep clear” of the works, and a 500m exclusion zone has been put in place.
Chief Supt Tony McNamara, head of the Mayo Garda division, confirmed that two officers had visited Mr O’Donnell after his request this week for protection.
“Mr O’Donnell could not identify specific threats to his gear, but he was asked to contact us and give adequate notice for same,” said Chief Supt McNamara.