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Work at tragic Whiddy jetty angers victims’ families

September 11th, 2021 12:00 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Marker buoys at the jetty off Whiddy Island last week.

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WORK being carried out on the jetty at Whiddy Island, close to the site of the original 1979 tragedy which claimed the lives of 50 people, shows insensitivity to the victims’ families, a lawyer has said.

Marker buoys have appeared around the jetty in recent weeks, prompting fears that work is taking place there to dismantle part, or all, of the original jetty.

A total of 50 people lost their lives in January 1979 when a massive explosion on the oil tanker Betelegeuse, docked at the jetty, was felt several miles away and broke windows on the mainland.

Now the victims’ families are annoyed that divers may have visited the site, and some work has taken place at the jetty, which many still treat as a sacred site.

This week the Department of the Environment, on behalf of the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA), which controls the jetty, said the work being carried out was ‘essential remedial works’.

But Michael Kingston, vice-president of the French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse, said the families were very upset not to have been consulted about any interference at the site.

The spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said: The Irish National Petroleum Corporation (INPC) is responsible for the management and maintenance of the oil jetty at Bantry.  In executing these obligations, it is very conscious and mindful of the sensitivity of the site.’

They added: ‘The works that have been completed in the course of the last few weeks were essential remedial works addressing a number of safety concerns in relation to the facility.  Consent was granted by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage under the terms of the existing lease.’

They added that there is ‘no connection between the works undertaken on the jetty and any plans that Zenith, or others, may have for a green energy facility on the island.’

In July, Zenith Energy announced plans to develop one of the world’s largest green energy facilities nearby on the island, producing green hydrogen and green ammonia.

But this week Mr Kingston, a respected maritime lawyer, whose father Tim died in the tragedy, disputed that the INPC had been mindful of the sensitivity of the site.

‘Everyone is in the dark as to what is going on,’ he told The Southern Star. ‘If they were mindful of the sensitivities, then they would have made contact with the French relatives of the Betelgeuse victims, and the communities of Whiddy Island and Bantry, to explain what they were doing.’

He added: ‘I cannot begin to explain what this gravesite means to the families, particularly the French families whose 23 family members’ bodies were never recovered.’

He said the families regularly attend the jetty for prayer ceremonies. ‘The whole circumstance of the tragedy and the Irish regulatory failings that caused it have not been rectified, and this is another episode of the Irish government’s litany of torture, where understanding and empathy and simple respect for the victims, their families and the communities involved, both here and in France, is again absent, causing immeasurable distress, once more.’

 He further added that, with a pending High Court Action regarding the conclusions in the inquests into the victims’ deaths, the jetty is also evidence in a serious crime scene.

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