I woke to the news this morning that Ireland's sail-training ship, the Asgard II was sinking off the French coast. An SOS was sent by the captain around 2am when they noticed the hull filling with water. The ship sank around 7:30 am. Two French coast guard vessels and two French naval helicopters came to the rescue of the 25 passengers and crew, who had escaped the sinking ship safely on lifeboats.
Commandant Fergal Purcell, spokesman for the Irish Defense Forces, said French rescuers took everyone in the lifeboats to the island of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) off the coast of Brittany. It is still not known what caused the sinking, although it is suspected a faulty "sea cock" was to blame. A sea cock is a valve that allows water into the ship to cool engines or flush toilets. If one sticks, the water continues to pour in and the pumps cannot empty the water.
The Irish-built Asgard II was a brigantine, a two-masted vessel with a square-rigged foremast, much in the style of a classic pirate ship. The Irish government commissioned it to provide adventure training in sailing an old time ship. The crew on board ranged in age from 16-60, all seeking adventure and was wrapping up a week long voyage from Falmouth, England to the French port of La Rochelle. My crew and I had often talked about joining a ship such as this for the experience.
An Irish navy vessel, the Niamh, and Irish embassy officials from Paris are currently heading to Belle-Ile to help the stranded crew and passengers return home to Ireland. Even though I'm saddened by the loss of the ship, we can all breath a sigh of relief that the 20 sailors are safe and will be able to come home.