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Three men assaulted at patrol boat arson site

The remains of the 'Colleen' are removed from Lough Neagh earlier this week
Connla Young

The PSNI has launched an investigation after three men were assaulted at the scene of an arson attack which saw a £60,000 Lough Neagh patrol boat destroyed last weekend.

It is understood an altercation took place as salvage workers tried to raise the sunken patrol boat from a quay at Moortown in Co Tyrone on Tuesday.

The 24 foot ‘Colleen’, which is owned by Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, was gutted during a blaze started by two masked men in a fence in the early hours of Saturday morning.

It is believed the man entered the quay as workers and co-operative officials were trying to remove the damaged boat.

It is understood that an altercation then took place between the man and some of those present.

Cooperative chairman Pat Close said he was unable to comment and the “matter is in the hands of the police at the moment”.

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “Police received the report of an assault on three men in the Anneter area of Cookstown on Wednesday."

He added that investigations into the attack on the patrol boat “are ongoing”.

There is no suggestion the two incidents are linked.

The Lough Neagh fishing community has been left stunned by the attack on the Orkney 24 style vessel, which had only been in use on the lough for a week before it was targeted.

The boat was used for both enforcement patrols as well as research and survey work carried out by the co-operative.

The cooperative owns the rights to Lough Neagh's lucrative commercial eel and scale fishery and manages licensing and some enforcement.

Although government officials have been targeted in the past, it is believed to be the first time a boat belonging to the cooperative has been attacked in this way.

The attackers also attempted to torch a second cooperative owned vessel at the quay, but it is believed they fled after people living nearby raised the alarm when the Colleen’s cabin exploded.

Mr Close revealed that around 100 Lough Neagh fishermen attended a meeting of the cooperative’s HQ at Toome on Monday in a show of solidarity.

“They were united in their condemnation of it and there were no dissenting voices,” he said.

“They felt they needed to come here to record their abhorrence outright and condemn it and assure the management of the co-op we had their full support.”

It is understood that cooperative officials have already started the search for a replacement patrol boat.

Mid Ulster Sinn Féin MLA Ian Milne condemned the arson attack.

“The Lough Neagh fishermen play an important role in the community protecting the local environment and providing employment,” he said.

“The destruction of the boat has robbed the local community of a vital service and as such this was an attack on the whole community.”

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