Stricken Japanese tuna ship restarted

Engineers from sister ships in the Japanese Atlantic tuna fleet, aided by Irish naval officers, yesterday succeeded in restarting the engines of the stricken vessel Taisei Maru, on which five crew members died in a gas leak on Friday.

In the continuing stand-off over tuna fishing rights, armed Irish naval vessels are staying in position 200 miles off Galway, ready to challenge any of the estimated 40 Japanese ships attempting to retrieve long-line equipment left illegally in Irish waters.

Efforts to help the Taisei Maru on Friday and Saturday were hampered by heavy seas, although the crew managed to ventilate the ship's engine room, where freon refrigeration gas had leaked. It turns into a deadly nerve gas on contact with flames or hot surfaces.

Yesterday morning three Japanese engineers from other tuna ships, with Irish officers, succeeded in running electricity cables from the Irish fisheries protection ship the Aisling to the Taisei Maru, enabling them to recharge the ship's batteries and restart its engines and navigation gear.

Captain Liam Donaldson of the Aisling said isolated pockets of freon were detected in the engine room, but at safe levels.

Three Irish officers with breathing apparatus have remained on board while the vessel is brought to Cork, where it is due this afternoon. The master, chief engineer, cook, boatswain and chief oiler of the Taisei Maru died in Friday's accident.

Their bodies will be taken off the ship in Cork and sent to Japan.

After tests, the refrigerated hold of the Taisei Maru will be repaired, to protect the valuable fast-frozen catch, which is normally stored at -50C.