The case of the Irish fisherman who discovered serious stability issues with a Dutch-built trawler and was left with debts of €1m was presented to an Irish parliamentary committee late last month. The Joint Committee on Public Petitions and the Ombudsmen heard calls for an EU investigation into the case of the Mary Kate WD 30 and similar Dutch-built vessels, and said it would try to progress the issue.

The issue was listed as Public Petition Number P00012/23 on ‘Justice and Safety’, and heard from Arklow fisherman and former owner of the vessel CJ Gaffney as petitioner. It also heard from Mary Bertelsen, a campaigner and concerned citizen on people’s rights, Jakob Pinkster, a Dutch stability and ship building expert, and Justin Delaney, a stability expert.

CJ Gaffney tried to take legal action in both the Netherlands and Germany after he discovered the stability issues with the vessel. He recounted how he took out a loan to cover fixing the vessel, and then had to surrender it to the bank in 2012.

He sought EU funds in compensation, but the EU said it was up to the national state. The vessel was broken up in New Ross, Co Wexford last year under the Irish government’s decommissioning scheme.

CJ Gaffney maintains that questions need to be asked at both national and EU level as to how the beam trawler was issued with a stamped stability book from a renowned international classification society.

He says questions should be asked as to how a valid ship sailing permit was issued when it had 20t of unaccounted steel present since its build, and how the case was handled after various authorities had been notified of this. “If this is not sorted, this is a life sentence,” he told the committee.

Justin Delaney told the committee that 11 sister vessels were built, and three of them are similar to the Mary Kate – ‘incorrect vessels’ that are much heavier in the water. He recounted how he had tried to raise the issue with German ministers and the Dutch safety board.

“These vessels were given stability booklets and information that was not correct… it was only when CJ began to operate the Mary Kate… that true stability deficiencies became apparent,” said Justin Delaney.

“I am totally shocked an official EU investigation has not happened – beam trawlers are the most dangerous type of fishing,” he said, stressing that this was a ‘huge case in terms of maritime safety’ which should have been resolved back in 2010. He said an EU investigation needs to happen, and that the Gaffneys deserve compensation.

Jakob Pinkster said as a Dutch stability expert, said he was ‘ashamed’ of the handling of the issue, and that he could not understand who could issue incorrect information.

Committee chairman and Sinn Féin TD Martin Browne said the committee would do all in its power to further the case. “The committee welcomes Mr Gaffney and his supporting witnesses,” he said, noting that the case ‘clearly had a considerable impact on him, his family and his business’.

Senator Gerard Craughwell said CJ Gaffney’s situation was ‘horrendous’. He proposed that the committee should ask the Irish state to deal with CJ Gaffney first and the EU separately. The Department of Transport should compensate CJ Gaffney and the government should take the issue up with the EU, he proposed.

Sinn Fein TD for Wicklow John Brady said that neither the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine nor the Department of Transport would take responsibility, and had passed it back and forth.

CJ Gaffney said that the European Commission had been ‘fantastic’ in responding to correspondence, but as the vessel is under 24m it is a national issue.

John Brady said that he and Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore had tried to bring five Wicklow TDs together to push for a solution, but the other three had not even acknowledged requests.

He proposed that the committee should write directly to the taoiseach to ‘cut through the red tape’. It was up to the Irish government to ‘end the nightmare for the Gaffney family’, he said.

Jennifer Whitmore agreed with this proposal, saying that it had been ‘15 years of torture’. CJ Gaffney was highlighting a ‘major safety issue and a huge gap in the regulatory system’, she said.


This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here

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