Sunday 3rd February 19:00
On Saturday 2nd February at 7.30pm the fishing boat Celestial Dawn ran aground at the mouth of Dingle Harbour. The 180-tonne vessel appears to have performed a U-turn rather close to the lighthouse before going aground on the rocks, releasing several thousand litres of diesel oil into the water during the course of the night from one fuel tank which was holed. Two further tanks remain intact as of Sunday evening. The vessel had just been refuelled and had 39,000 litres of oil on board. All crew members escaped uninjured after being rescued by the coastguard helicopter. Dingle coastguards were first on the scene within minutes of flares being sighted.
This incident has occurred right in the middle of the dolphin’s territory. On Sunday morning two oil slicks could be seen, one stretching from the lighthouse back to Beenbawn and the other moving inside the harbour towards Burnham. The dolphin was surfacing to breathe within the oil slick and we have naturally been concerned about the risks to his health. Nominally a shipwreck comes under the jurisdiction of the county council, but it is Sunday today so it may be hard to reach the people there who need to take decisions. Other people on the ground also have a say, as the wreck and any oil spillage will obviously affect the harbour and the maritime environment. An attempt was made to get on board at low tide this afternoon to see if it was possible to seal the leaking tank and to assess the possibilities of pumping off the remaining oil, but it was judged too dangerous to attempt to board the boat, which is listing to about 50 degrees. Another attempt will be made on Monday. Discussions have been taking place between the Department of the Marine and the Harbourmaster about putting a floating boom across the mouth of the harbour in case of further oil release and such a boom is now supposed to be on its way down from Foynes in Co.Limerick. Meanwhile two tugs are reported to be on standby at Fenit with a view to pulling the stricken vessel off the rocks. However, it may be necessary to carry out some welding around the damaged area before she can be floated properly, and all of this depends not only on the weather – and force 8 gales are forecast again for tonight – but on the boat’s insurers, without whose agreement no-one can touch her….and of course as it is Sunday now, they will not be on site until tomorrow at the earliest.
Our main concern at this stage is that the dolphin stays out of the existing oil spill and is protected from any further spillage. We do not really know how badly it will be affecting him but the danger is obviously that in surfacing to breathe he will take oil or oil vapour into his lungs. Can he ‘taste’ this immediately and if so, is he smart enough to avoid the polluted areas? Today he was as usual following RIBs and dolphin boats around and these led him into the most polluted areas right around the stricken vessel. We thought we should perhaps be out there trying to distract him to cleaner waters, but maybe he knows what he is doing. As we left at 4.00pm he was swimming in the channel away from any danger. The good news is that the incoming tide was dispersing the oil, and being relatively light, a lot of it was evaporating, as the nauseating smell all around the shoreline testified. When the gales hit tonight, any remaining oil will be quickly dispersed, so the worry then is that the vessel may be bashed around further and more oil released. At this stage no attempt is being made to secure her and she was already moving around on the rocks as we left. If a more serious oil spillage does threaten the dolphin, our priority will be to try to keep him away from it without resorting to the type of intervention which has already been mentioned in some quarters, i.e. catching him in a net and transporting him to the Oceanarium in Dingle for temporary safekeeping – a plan which we consider impractical and unreasonable, as we do not have the equipment or expertise necessary to attempt this without the risk of seriously injuring or traumatising him.