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Heart breaking - one man’s battle for justice against Ireland’s ruthless administrative system

The following article, by Arklow-based vessel owner C.J. Gaffney, highlights the inadequate and apparently uncaring attitude of the Irish Department of Marine in coming to the aid of a man in trouble, through no fault of his own, with even the EU Commission‘s offers of solution being dismissed by Irish administrators who have continually ignored this man’s pleas for help.

Our lives have never been the same since June 2009, when the results of the stability test on our modern beam trawler were delivered to us.


Having been told that our vessel was not seaworthy and inherently unsafe, this confirmed what we had always felt whilst operating her, yet it didn´t make it any easier. Some would call it a death sentence what would be landed upon us, with the stress and worry that follows us to this very day, continuing to cause lasting damage.

I am writing this letter in the hope that someone may be able to assist me and my family in seeking some degree of redress and compensation. This letter details our story and our fight for justice, as countless experts have already proven beyond any doubt that our vessel was wrongly certified as being seaworthy from when it was built, yet us as innocent Irish citizens, we have been constantly ignored and abandoned by successive governments since 2009.

My family have been involved in fishing over many generations. On 2nd July 2007 we purchased the fishing vessel, Evert Jan, SC-30, from Seefischeibetrieb SC-3,0 Gmbh, Bollwerkstrasse, 45, Emden, Germany. The vessel was Dutch designed, built, and owned but registered on the German register and flag.


The vessel’s machinery was still in class with Germanischer Lloyd, was still fishing and all the German paperwork was up to date with the stability book was stamped and approved by Germanischer Lloyd Classifacation Society and the German Marine Survey Office.


The vessel was brought home and renamed and re-registered Mary Kate, WD-30, and we commenced fishing on the 1rst January 2008.


From the outset we didn’t have a safe feeling in comparison to our former older and smaller vessel. Any time the weight on one side was greater than the other she, would develop a heavy list and have water wash up on the deck. We almost capsized on a couple of occasions when coming fast on the bottom.


Ireland was one of the first in Europe to introduce new safety measures where they would test the stability of the entire fishing fleet of 15-24 metre vessels. We notified the Marine Survey Office of what had happened and as far as I know we were the first vessel that was stability tested under these new rules on 26th of May 2009. The test was conducted by our Naval Architect, Justin Delaney BEng, MSc and witnessed by David Taylor of the MSO.


The results were devastating but not surprising and after we were told the results.


On the 2nd of October 2009, we had a meeting our solicitor, Hugh Kennedy´s office with our insurance broker and others present. It was confirmed that we were not insured for a design mistake or latent defect and they had sympathy for our predicament and stated if the vessel had capsized, there would have been insurance but because the vessel was not lost, there was nothing they could do.


On the 26th of May 2010, Jelle Loosman, appointed court surveyor, along with our witness, Jakob Pinkster, naval architect, MSc, surveyed the vessel and the next day performed a stability test in Wicklow, with again the same results as before. The court surveyor said there had to have been a mistake at the original stability test and that the vessel should never have been passed as seaworthy or certified.


There was a total of nine sister ships built and including Mary Kate and three of them have had to be lengthened to make them safe.


I even acquired a copy of one of the sister ships´ inclining tests, confirming it to be also failing by considerable margins.


The vessel originally cost a considerable amount to purchase and refit along with the 160 tons and 221 kilowatt of Irish Sea full Entitlement Beam Trawl to licence her. We were left with two options; one was to scrap the vessel and the other was to have her lengthened by 5.85 meters, a massive increase of over 20% of her original length, which we did as the only sensible option left to us.


In 2011 the Mary Kate, after been lengthened and fixed, underwent another new stability test with a surveyor present from the MSO as witness.


The Mary Kate was now passed by the MSO with a new approved stability booklet. It cost us €384,490 for the lengthening plus all the safety gear etc. The Mary Kate could go now back fishing or be sold.


At this point we were now deeply in debt to our bank and were been pressurised to sell and several buyers from the UK were extremely interested in buying her but the Maritime & Coast Guard Agency (MCA), would, under no circumstances, allow any of the interested parties to import the Mary Kate, even after they employed renowned experts to lobby on their behalf.


We had to voluntary surrender the vessel and licence to the bank which resulted in a fire sale and even after the sale, we still owe the bank a considerable sum which leaves several family homes at risk of repossession at any time.


From the very first day we have been treated abysmally by the Department of Marine and Department of Transport and every single proposal we have put forward was turned down and not once has any help or support in any shape or form been forthcoming.

The first Marine Minister we met was Tony Killeen, Fianna Fail, in Dunmore East on 21st July 2010 and he was horrified of what we were going through and promised to sort this out. Also at this meeting was Josephine Kelly, responsible for Seafood Policy at National and EU level.


We then had to deal with Minister Sean Connick, Fianna Fail, who we found to be completely out of his depth and showed absolutely no inclination to find a solution, he just repeated whatever Josephine told him.


On the 21st of October 2010, Adrian Hosford from the Licensing Department rang to say he was doing a report for the Minister about our Irish Sea Entitlement for beam trawling and for scallop entitlement to be given to us.


The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dick Roche, Fianna Fail, organized a meeting in the Dail on 27th of October 2010, with Josephine Kelly, Responsible for Sea Food Policy at National & EU Level, Cecil Beamish, Assistant Secretary for Seafood Policy, Sea fisheries Administration, Marine Agencies and Programmes, Dick Roche and his special advisor, David Grant, C J and Christy Gaffney.


We went through all the requests we had made to them for help which are all attached and that they had made concessions for other fisherman at which Josephine Kelly got very animated and aggressive and stated they were going to do nothing to help and just sell the boat. Minister Roche told her to listen to both sides and he had to agree that they had made no effort whatsoever to help us and that we were making very valid points.


Minister Roche asked them had they been in contact with Department of Transport to find a solution which they replied they don’t talk to other departments and he said I am going to call a meeting next week with Transport, Foreign Affairs and they would have to attend at which Josephine said they would not attend such a meeting as they didn’t have to and that they were now leaving. Minister Roche said you can’t leave at which she replied we can, and we are, and both of them walked out.


They have never once contacted Brussels about the case, never once brought it up with Irish Fish Producers Organizations at their meetings, absolutely nothing.


An owner of a beam trawl licence approached me as his licence was coming up to the two-year rule with a proposal that if I put this Licence on the Mary Kate to activate it that when I returned it, he would give me free of charge the 38 tons I needed to licence the by now bigger Mary Kate.


This deal would save me over €100,000 and could have been the difference of getting her back to sea. The Sea Fisheries Department stopped this from happening under a few minor technical issues which was devastating and to make it worse, the owner done a deal with a friend of mine to do the exact same thing which was allowed.


We also took our case to the EU and the Maritime Commissioner, with the help and support from almost every Irish MEP in the European Parliament and also local elected TDs here in Ireland. We received a lot of sympathy at all levels and letters of support – correspondence attached.


On Wednesday morning the 26th of January 2011, we attended a meeting which had been organized by MEP, Pat the Cope Gallagher & MEP, Liam Aylward in Brussels which they could not attend as they had to be in the Dail for a vote on the new Fianna Fail leader which Michael Martin won.


Present were Maja Kirchner, Deputy Head of Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Miriam Schoeps, Policy Advisor – Legal Affairs, Brendan O Shea, European Commission DG Maritime Affairs and Fishing, Laura Real, assistant to Liam Aylward, MEP and an assistant to Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP. Our party was made up of myself, C J Gaffney, my father, Christy Gaffney, Hugh Kennedy, Marine Lawyer, Justin Delaney, MSc, Naval Architect and Jakob Pinkster, MSc, Naval Architect.


We were allotted 30 minutes but after showing them the slide show and power points and paperwork, the meeting lasted two hours. They were shocked when I told them the way we had been spoken to at the meeting in the Dail but said they were not surprised and that they had also found it difficult to work with the same people and they told us they would do everything they could to help us including contacting the Irish Department of Fisheries and they would also contact Simon Coveney before he had time to have his head turned by his new advisors.


They said they would do this because they couldn’t award compensation to an individual or otherwise, they would do it straight away, but that Ireland could use funding out of the European Fisheries Fund and if this money had already been allocated, they could make a representation requiring extra funding to cover the compensation they would give us. This was completely ignored by Ireland and you can see in the attached e-mails, that the EU went above and beyond trying to persuade Ireland to do this.


In the afternoon, our group and the MEPs assistants met with Richard Mason, Maritime Transport Policy: Regulatory Questions, Maritime Safety and Seafarers, DG Mobility and Transport. Again, we were scheduled for 30 minutes but got over two hours as we showed a different slide show aimed at his department.


As the Mary Kate was under 24 metres registered length, she didn’t fall under EU derestriction and there was not a lot he could do, only to inform the countries of the sister vessels and to also write to Germanischer Lloyd. Otherwise, he said the full power of his department would be used to sort this out. He said his department had no part in issuing EU funding, otherwise he would immediately compensate me. He again stressed that the Mary Kate fell under Irish derestriction and to again ask for help which we did and again found no interest in any way shape of form.


On the 22nd of September 2011, in Dublin, Mairead MC Guinness, MEP, Andrew Doyle, TD and Minister Simon Coveney, met with Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maja Kirchner Deputy Head to Commissioner Damanaki. The Commissioner said that the EU can’t intervene in individual cases and that Ireland could sort out this mess by any means agreeable and that the European Fisheries Fund could be used in different ways to facilitate this.


Ms. Kirchner said that the European Maritime Directorate would have no objection to Ireland using money from the European Fisheries Fund to decommission the boat or to lend some degree of financial aid to the Mary Kate given the special circumstances of this case.


In her letter dated 14th October 2011, she also wrote that the “If the Mary Kate completed stability modifications recommended by the national surveyor and satisfactory complete stability survey, it is possible for us to apply to the national authorities for a licence to fish and that it was possible for us to purchase additional capacity”.


However, the fund is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Marine and it would be up to this Department to assist us. We pursued this possibility at every level and indeed with letters of support from MEP and TD but again, our request was shot down.


In total contrast to our own government ministers and civil servants, the support we got from Brussels was incomparable.


On countless occasions, letters were sent from Brussels to Irish ministers and civil servants in support of our case with Brussels making it crystal clear that they would have no hesitation in Ireland granting us decommissioning or other compensatory means.


On 26th of April 2011, I attended another meeting in the Dail with Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Paul Kehoe, TD, Chief Whip, Andrew Doyle, TD, which incidentally was the same day that the Mary Kate came off the slip after being lengthened. Simon listened to what we had to say and said if he helped us, he would have to help every fishermen, and what’s the difference between us and say a fishermen steaming out of Castletownbere, and his engine blows up, to which I gave him a detailed answer and he said because of the seriousness of the case, he would be back to us within a week and then ignored us for a full six months until I again met him in a Gorey Hotel where again he said he would come straight back, and again it was another six months before he answered any correspondences.


On the 4th of July 2011, Andrew Doyle told me that Minister Coveney is fuming that Pat the Cope, in his letter telling him to sort it out, because Fianna Fail had had it for 16 months and had failed to do anything. Cecil Beamish had told Minister Coveney NOT TO HELP us as it would open the flood gates, and don’t change any legislation for them or you would become known as the Fine Gael, Frank Fahey.


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So here I am after a lifetime of hard work, with no boat, no licence, absolutely no money and a gigantic loan and nothing to show for it.


This has happened through no fault of our own but because of the incompetence of both the German parties failing to correctly test and apply German and EU law.


This has had a devastating effect on my whole family and that will continue until my dying day.


It has been a real struggle at times to carry on and we are still trying to sort this out with the threat of our family home also being repossessed.


As you can see, I was an extremely successful fisherman, with a real sense of pride and achievement, having climbed the ladder from being an apprentice deckhand of 15 years old, to owning and skippering a state-of-the-art vessel by 37, which took huge sacrifices and hard work to achieve.


Without a shadow of doubt, this is a miscarriage of justice and it should have been pursued vigorously by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Marine and Department of Transport, until a satisfactory solution was found.

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