Balaclava-clad men torch £60,000 Lough Neagh patrol boat
Masked men have destroyed a £60,000 patrol boat used by bailiffs on Lough Neagh.
It is understood two men cut the boat from its moorings at a quay in Moortown in Co Tyrone before setting it alight at around 12.35am on Saturday.
The gutted vessel later sank after fire fighters put the blaze out.
The Orkney 24 boat was bought by the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-Operative Society in Scotland two weeks ago and had only been in use on the lough for a week.
The boat, named 'Colleen', was used for both enforcement patrols as well as research and survey work carried out by the co-operative.
The cost of buying and fitting the boat with electronic equipment is understood to be in the region of £60,000.
It is believed to be the fist time a boat belonging to the co-operative has been targeted and destroyed in this way.
The co-op owns the rights to Lough Neagh's lucrative commercial eel and scale fishery and manages licensing and some enforcement.
In 2016 the co-operative introduced a new permitting system for those involved in scale fishing.
The organisation currently has four patrol boats, three of which were operational until the weekend, involved in ensuring fishermen are properly licensed and that nets and other equipment are legal.
The arsonists, who were recorded on CCTV, cut their way through a fence before torching the boat causing a large explosion.
The burning boat then drifted into two other patrol vessels berthed nearby causing some damage, which has yet to be fully assessed.
It is understood the culprits attempted to set fire to a second patrol vessel but are believed to have fled after people living nearby raised the alarm.
Chairman of the co-operative Pat Close said local fishermen are shocked by the attack.
“It's an attack against the property of the co-operative and an attack against the co-operative and it's an attack against the fishing community as well,” he said.
“I have been pleasantly surprised by the people that have been calling and condemning this.
“The fishermen of Lough Neagh have utterly condemned this attack, the people are supportive of the co-operative.”
Formed in 1963 the co-operative has traditionally had the backing of the local community as it battled to acquire the rights to eel fishing on the lough, which at the time were held by a consortium of Dutch and English fish merchants based in London.
Led by Fr Oliver Kennedy, who died in 2013, the co-op eventually bought control of the eel fishing rights, resulting in a dramatic increase in catch prices paid to local fishermen.
It has held the scale fishing rights since 1992 and started to play a role in regulation and management two years ago.
Although there have been isolated incidents over the years, because of the co-op's history and close ties to the local community its bailiffs have generally been left unhindered.
However, in contrast, fishing communities have in the past had a strained relationship with government bailiffs.
In the last century shots were fired at bailiffs patrolling the lough on several occasions.
In 1999 an £80,000 patrol boat, The Anquilla, disappeared without trace from its port at Derrycrow in Co Armagh.
The 30ft inflatable rib is believed by many to have been taken into the middle of the lough and scuttled by disgruntled fishermen.
The PSNI are investigating the latest incident.
SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone described the attack as “shocking” and “senseless”
“I utterly condemn those responsible for this senseless arson attack. This is shocking news, that has caused deep concern in our community," he said.