Maritime Cork: Crane movement brings back memories of Verolme

Maritime Cork: Crane movement brings back memories of Verolme
The Hansa Heavy Lift vessel HHL Lagos loaded with two Liebherr container cranes for export to Hull. Pic: Larry Cummins

It was an impressive sight at lunchtime on Sunday when two harbour tugs assisted the Hansa heavy lift ship, Lagos, to leave Cork Dockyard at Rushbrooke.

The huge ship let go her mooring ropes and they efficiently and quickly eased her into the river channel, down Monkstown Bay, around Black Point, past Cobh, to the open sea, bound for Hull with two huge container cranes on her deck.

Those STS Container Cranes contrasted sharply with the older, skeletal-like cranes still standing in the yard from the days when it was operated by the Dutch company, Verolme and had over a thousand workers building ships. 

Watching from Monkstown, locals recalled the days of ship launches from Verolme which required skilled handling to control newly-built vessels in the narrow river space between Rushbrooke and Monkstown.

“As vessels slid down the slipway, gathering speed, we could see them heading towards Monkstown. It was amazing to watch in the narrow river confines. It was a tragedy to lose the shipbuilding skills.” 

The new cranes were the latest in a series manufactured by Liebherr in Killarney and brought to Cork Dockyard for assembly. Previously, rails were built to roll the cranes aboard ship for transport. This time, in a new feat of engineering and seamanship, Lagos used its own cranes to lift the massive container cranes aboard.

The Dutch-owned Verolme Dockyard closed down in 1984. In 1959 it had been attracted to Ireland with Government support, acquiring the dry dock, buildings and workers of a former dockyard operation. State papers show that its fate was sealed a year before closure by a consultant’s report that it was not commercially viable and had no prospect of securing either foreign or domestic orders. This was blamed on low productivity at the yard and high prices, which caused controversy, but was accepted by the Government.

Launching of Irish Elm at Verolme Dockyard in 1967
Launching of Irish Elm at Verolme Dockyard in 1967

Patrick Martin was Chief Naval Architect at Verolme. In his book about shipbuilding he said: “It cannot be denied that, from the very first day, Mr Verolme harboured one grave reservation about a shipyard on Cork Harbour.” 

He was very guarded about permitting a plethora of trade unions. Throughout the yard’s 25 years, according to Patrick Martin, “the Dutch element of top/medium management regarded the average Irish worker with an element of disdain.” 

Martin wrote that he arranged a last-ditch survival plan as the yard completed its last ship - the LE Eithne for the Naval Service - with then TD Hugh Coveney. This was sent to the yard’s Managing Director, Mr Van De Puil, but it’s not known if he ever showed it to the Board of Directors.

YOUGHAL MEMORIAL 

This Saturday morning at 10am the Annual Fishermen’s Mass will be celebrated at Youghal Parish Church. Townspeople will “remember fishermen and sailors who lost their lives at sea,” local author and historian Mike Hackett, who organises the commemoration says. One of the biggest tragedies in the town’s maritime history occurred on February 8, 1936, when the three-masted schooner Nellie Fleming was lost with its crew of five in a gale after leaving Milford Haven to return to Youghal.

Coincidentally, the day before, Ballycotton Lifeboat crew on the Mary Stanford carried out the most famous rescue in Irish lifeboat history, rescuing the crew of the Daunt Rock Lightship which had broken free of its moorings off Cork Harbour. 

The Ballycotton Station is now looking for crew members for its present lifeboat and will hold a meeting for volunteers on Monday, February 19, at the village station.

Email: tommacsweeneymarine@gmail.com

Tomorrow ECHO SPORT: SAILING

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