A malfunction of a harbour storm gate has led to severe disruption for Cape Clear Island residents as the ferry used to transport people to and from the island is trapped until engineers can fix the problem.
On Wednesday morning, the €4.3m storm gates, which are operated by hydraulic arms at the mouth of the north harbour on the island and were only installed at the redeveloped harbour in 2015, had a stainless steel pipe burst leading to a loss of oil pressure.
The closure trapped the Dún Aengus ferry and a number of other smaller vessels inside. The other ferry on the island, Dún an Óir 11, is out of service as it is undergoing its annual survey.
The gates are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and were installed as part of measures to protect the harbour which has been battered by storms over the years. The Department said it does not yet have a timeline for the gates to be reopened.
However, a local source said they have been told it could take a week to source the oil needed to replace the pressure to allow the gates to be reopened.
"We are undergoing a bit of a crisis at the moment as a result," according to the islanders who are dependent as a result on small boats to provide transport or supplies until the situation is resolved.
"We have received every possible help and support from our local fellow operators and service providers which is greatly appreciated but it is nevertheless a very difficult situation," they say.
Cape Clear Ferry service, which operates the boats have said normal schedules sailings have now returned after Dr Nic Slocum of Whale Watch Ireland stepped in to make a 12-passenger vessel available for an unofficial relief service. Another 12-passenger boat has also been sourced from another operator.
Cape Clear Ferry Service said in a statement that places on some sailings will be prioritised for those most in need of transport.
“On Saturday we have a 12 noon sailing from Baltimore as well as the normal 2pm sailing. On Sunday afternoon there will be a number of outgoing sailings to be advertised and prebooked. On Monday morning the school children have priority on the 7am sailing as do teachers on the 8am incoming and we shall be seeking bookings for these.“ Local fisherman Patrick O'Driscoll has also had his vessel trapped behind the gates and is concerned about the length of time it will take to free the boat. He said he had been banking on the good weather forecast for fishing.
“We were to put out 400 pots on Saturday,” he said.
“When they put in these gates, there was no plan B. The oil should be kept spare there. It could be a week before it's sorted and that's no good for me because we need to get our pots out because the window of opportunity is tomorrow and Saturday because of the good weather. Our plan is out as we need to get them out to start fishing.
“It could take up to a week and that's not acceptable to be honest. Nobody rang us to inform us. I had to ring the engineer yesterday. To say they can't get the oil for a week; I'm just gone half-mad to tell you the truth. There should be a plan B to open to the gates. It happened again last year when the power went out.
“We asked them when they installed the system to put in a generator,” he added.