A vessel berthed at the Cook Street jetty in Portaferry sank in the early hours of 27 January around 5.30am resulting in a limited amount of diesel leakage into Strangford Lough.
The Regina Caelis, understood to be owned by an Ardglass businessman and not in good sea condition, had been moored there since early 2016. It had a constant issue with leaking and its pumps were employed on a regular basis to extract water from its sumps.
The three-masted schooner-like vessel was built in Denmark in 1936 as a fishing boat and was later converted to a leisure vessel and owned for part of the time by two musicians from Switzerland. It had been moved from various ports across Northern Ireland and came from Donaghadee to Portaferry on its last journey in early 2016.
Now lying with its hull under water and the three masts lying at a 45-degree angle, the vessel could be in danger of breaking its mooring ropes in the strong Strangford Lough currents and tide. It is understood that there are a number of drums of fuel oil aboard which could be a environmental hazzard if they leaked or burst threatening local wildlife and marine flora and fauna.
A spokesperson for Ards and North Down Borough Council said that “the NIEA Water Management Unit and DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division are working closely with Ards and North Down Borough Council and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in response to the sinking of this vessel.”
The NIEA has advised: “Wind and tidal action will aid evaporation and dispersion. The situation will be kept under review to determine if any remedial measures are necessary or practicable given the strong currents in the vicinity of Cook Street.”
“Specialist consultants are working to contain the leak and assist with the clean-up. It is believed that the fuel oil does not present a long-term threat to the environment
“The vessel will be salvaged as soon as is reasonably practicable.”
Alliance Strangford MLA Kelly Armstrong also expressed her concern and said: “There needs to be immediate action to stop environmental damage following the sinking of a boat moored in Portaferry.
“The leisure vessel arrived into the Ards and North Down Council-owned Cook Street Quay some time ago and although several attempts have been made to repair it to make it seaworthy, it has been moored at the site ever since.
“However, gallons of diesel from the boat have now begun to leak into Strangford Lough. I have contacted several agencies but to no avail.
“Strangford Lough is environmentally sensitive, so I have asked the Council a number of times to raise my concerns but no action has been taken. The Northern Ireland Environmental Agency have pledged to check the scene but we are still waiting for that to take place.
“This has the potential to damage the specific and important Strangford Lough environment, and therefore I ask all relevant agencies treat this as an urgent case.
“I also call upon the Council to review their policy of allowing boats not in a fit state to be moored for so long at their quays. This environmental damage could have been averted if agencies had acted much more quickly to get the owner to repair and make the vessel seaworthy.”