‘This was an attack on the fishing community’

The patrol boat that was destroyed in the arson attack had only been acquired by Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative two weeks ago.
The patrol boat that was destroyed in the arson attack had only been acquired by Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative two weeks ago.

The chairman of Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative has described an arson attack that destroyed one of the organisation’s patrol boats as “an attack on the fishing community”.

Two people wearing balaclavas broke into the co-operative’s compound in the Anneter area of Cookstown in the early hours of Saturday morning, cut the moorings of the boat and set it alight. The vessel was completely destroyed and sank in the quay.

Pat Close, Chairman of Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative.

Pat Close, Chairman of Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative.

Describing the attack as “a huge disappointment”, co-operative chairman Pat Close said: “Certainly it was an attack on the property of the co-operative, but I regard it as an attack on the fishing community too because it is their lough, this was their boat.

“This boat was involved in enforcement work, but it was also involved in research work which is all geared towards securing a future for the fishing industry on the lough. This has put a severe dent in our efforts.”

The patrol boat ‘Colleen’ cost around £55,000 and had only been acquired by the co-operative two weeks ago to replace an older vessel which is being taken out of service.

The co-operative, which represents around 250 fishermen who make their livelihoods from the lough fishing for eels and other species, will now have to pay to get the burnt out vessel retrieved from the water to allow the quay to be operational for other boats.

Mr Close said he doesn’t know why the boat was targeted and didn’t want to speculate about the arsonists’ motive, but he praised the fishing community for rallying behind the co-operative in the wake of the attack.

“It is reassuring to know that the vast majority of fishermen are behind the co-op and utterly condemn this,” he continued. “We really appreciate all the offers of help and support from the fishing community.”

Police officers investigating the incident, which was reported shortly after 12:35am on Saturday morning (January 27), have urged anyone with information to contact them on 101 quoting reference 55 27/01/2018, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.