WORK BY the Solitaire ship on laying the offshore pipeline began yesterday in Broadhaven Bay as there were more calls for political leadership and legal clarification on the issues involved.
The Department of Transport confirmed last night that no order had been issued for a 500-metre exclusion zone around the Solitaire. It has issued only one marine notice on work in the bay, which makes no reference to an exclusion zone. Gardaí have said they are policing an exclusion zone “passed by the department”.
Earlier, the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association (EIFA), which has a legal agreement with Shell to facilitate the work, said it was “gravely concerned” at the Government’s refusal to clarify the legal situation.
“It is not good enough for a legislative authority to refuse to take responsibility for this project once again, as it has done from day one,” EIFA chairman Eddie Diver told The Irish Times.
He was commenting on Thursday’s arrest of fishermen Pat and Jonathan O’Donnell, who had been out on the water watching their fishing gear hours before the arrival of the Solitaire. Both fishermen’s boats have been detained indefinitely by gardaí under the Maritime Safety Act.
The 300m ship, which has a crew of 420 when at full complement, was escorted into the bay late on Thursday night amid heavy security on land and on water.
Two naval patrol ships, the LE Orla and LE Emer, are assisting the Garda, with inflatable vessels provided by the Naval Service, Garda Water Unit and Shell’s security company, Integrated Risk Management Services (IRMS).
Five Shell to Sea kayakers, among a small group of less than 50 at the Rossport Solidarity Camp, came within 100m of the vessel late on Thursday night. The five were apprehended by IRMS, but no arrests were made.
The EIFA, which has not been party to any protests on water, said the “refusal by the Government to clarify a situation of conflicting rights – a constitutional right to fish for those licensed to do so, and a temporary foreshore licence for a private company – has resulted in one young man being kept in Castlerea prison, one boat has sunk, two boats are detained, and the Garda and Naval Service have been put in an impossible position”.
The O’Donnells are among a minority of EIFA members who declined to accept compensation from Shell for temporary loss of livelihood during pipelaying due to their concern over the impact of the Corrib gas refinery discharge pipe on the marine environment.
Community groups Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile, which are not party to any protests on water condemned the arrests.
Spokesmen for the groups, Vincent McGrath of the Rossport Five and Ciarán Ó Murchú, ex-Air Corps pilot and managing director of Coláiste Uisce, warned that “intervention is required . . . before this situation seriously deteriorates and this development results in serious injury or death”.