£4 million to raise Asgard II

Captain Colm Newport, master of the sail training ship Asgard II, has received an e-mail from a group of Belgian shipowners. They said they had a potential £4 million budget and were interested in salvaging the Asgard II, which sank last year in French waters, and restoring it for sail training, according to the Irish Tines.

Capt Newport anticipates that the offer will be one of many such approaches. The e-mail landed as the vessel’s owner, Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, was en route to Chad, leaving in his wake an angry reaction to his decision announced on Monday to leave the hull on the seabed.

O’Dea said spending in the region of 2 million on a salvage effort, the outcome of which is uncertain, was something “we cannot afford at this time”. He said he had accepted a recommendation by Coiste an Asgard, the ship’s management committee, to “initiate planning for the procurement of a new vessel that will be similar in design to Asgard II but with a steel hull”, as steel would be less expensive than wood to build with and maintain.

“While I cannot commit public monies to a salvage operation, I am open, over the coming months, to considering any realistic and funded proposals from private individuals or groups as to the future of the Asgard II vessel,” Mr O’Dea said.

This last statement has upset supporters of the campaign to retrieve the ship, initiated by Afloat magazine last month. Capt Newport, who was congratulated by O’Dea last year for his handling of the rescue of four fellow crew and 20 trainees when the ship sank 22km west of Belle-île in north-west France on September 11th, is very disappointed at the Minister’s decision.

He has spent the six months since the ship’s sinking working with Coiste an Asgard on a salvage, and had secured a contract offer for the State from Dutch salvors, Mammoet. The company is best known for its successful lifting with Smit International of the 9,000 tonne Kursk, the Russian submarine which sank in August 2000 in the Barents Sea with the loss of 118 crew.

The estimated price for the lift would have been around 2 million, and he also identified several French shipyards capable of carrying out emergency treatment work on the ship before full restoration. He commissioned the remote underwater surveys on Coiste an Asgard’s behalf which showed that the hull was upright and capable of retrieval from 83 metres of water.