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£320,000 patrol boat trapped by flood water

DCAL Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and other officials at the launch of the Cu Mhara in September 2014
Connla Young

BALIFFS on Lough Neagh are unable to use a new £320,000 fisheries patrol boat after it was trapped in its berth due to rising floodwater.

The state-of-the-art vessel, the Cú Mhara, was launched by culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín in September 2014.

The boat is used by officials from the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure to patrol Lough Neagh - Ireland’s largest lake.

The Irish News understands that the boat has been trapped in a specially built boat house on the shores of Lough Neagh at Derrycrow in Co Armagh since water levels rose dramatically earlier this month.

The boathouse has been swamped by rising water making it impossible for the vessel to be removed from its mooring.

It is believed the building, which is equipped with office space, a shower and modern kitchen facilities, was refurbished around a decade ago.

As water levels continued to rise in recent weeks some private boat owners removed their vessels from the lough for safety reasons.

Questions were being asked on Friday night about why DCAL chiefs did not do the same.

When launched Ms Ní Chuilín said the new patrol boat will help in the "protection of fish stocks".

The loss of the boat comes as the lough’s commercial course fishing season is currently underway.

The Irish News understands that a second, rarely used patrol boat, owned by DCAL is currently tied up at Kinnego Marina.

A DCAL official warned on Friday night that "enforcement measures remain in place on the lough" despite the unavailability of the Cú Mhara.

Assembly member for the area, Dolores Kelly said she was surprised "that a department that is responsible for a part of our waterways…. could not have the common sense to take the boat out”.

"I have to add being a lough shore woman myself, there will be quiet a few fishermen unperturbed," she said.

A DCAL spokesperson said: "The Cú Mhara Lough Neagh fisheries protection vessel is currently safely berthed in the boathouse at Derrycrow Road near Lurgan.

"Following the recent severe rainfall and the resultant significant water level increase on Lough Neagh, preventative action was taken to ensure that no damage occurs to the boat."

The department’s Derrycrow site has been at the centre of controversy in the past.

In 1999 an £80,000 patrol boat, The Anquilla, disappeared without trace from its berth there.

The 30ft inflatable rib is believed by many to have been taken into the middle of the lough and scuttled by disgruntled fishermen.

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