Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Ferry tale has a bad ending for unlicensed Star Wars boatmen at Skellig Michael

Filming for the new Star Wars film is taking place on Skellig Michael
Filming for the new Star Wars film is taking place on Skellig Michael

Boatmen ferrying equipment used for the filming of the next Stars Wars film on Skellig Michael off the coast of Co Kerry have fallen foul of Irish government inspectors who say they had no permits to carry cargo.

The boatmen normally carry tourists out to the remote former monastic settlement and bird sanctuary which is now world famous after its selection as a location for the latest Star Wars epic.

They were barred from the island during filming but were offered compensation or work ferrying equipment.

Now that appears to have landed some in hot water with the authorities.

The Irish Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has confirmed its Marine Survey Office (MSO) investigated activities in Portmagee, Co Kerry, on Wednesday, following reports that cargo was being carried to the island from the mainland onboard 'local vessels'.

It confirmed that "enforcement activities" had been carried out at local mainland harbours.

While environmental and archaeological groups have accused the Irish Government of having scant regard for the island's breeding bird population or its archaeological heritage, it seems one Government agency cannot be accused of not being on top of its brief.

An MSO surveyor was dispatched to Co Kerry on Wednesday evening to further investigate the matter.

A statement said: "The MSO checked its records which showed no 'local' vessel had been issued with the required Irish Load Line Certification or had been issued with a Passenger Boat Licence with the required approval to carry cargo.

"The result of this visit was that the MSO surveyor was not satisfied that the cargo had been transported to Skellig Michael in accordance with the requirements of the applicable maritime safety legislation."

Boatmen were informed the return of the cargo to the mainland should only be undertaken by a vessel with the appropriate load line certification or by a licensed passenger boat holding an approved cargo carriage condition.

The statement said this was an "important safety issue". Local boatmen, who were paid £800 in compensation for projected loss of earnings on each of the three days of filming while the island was closed to the public, declined to comment.

Most were employed by the film company to transport crew and equipment to the island.

One boatman, who denied there had been any issue, said a "disclosure agreement" prevented them from ever talking about anything related to the film.

Director JJ Abrams completed three days of filming of Star Wars: Episode VII on the Unesco World Heritage Site on Wednesday.

He relaxed at the Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville in Kerry, where the film's star Mark Hamill, who plays the role of Luke Skywalker in the epic series of movies, also stayed during the filming.

Backgroung

Skellig Michael is a rocky outcrop rising out of the Atlantic around 12 miles off the Co Kerry Coast.

It was the site of a major monastic settlement from around the 6th century until its abandonment in the 12th century.

It is now a Unesco heritage site valued for its seabird breeding colonies. Unesco has expressed concern about the use of the site for filming.

The Irish Naval vessel the LE Beckett maintained a two-mile exclusion zone around the island throughout the three days of filming the next instalment in the Star Wars saga.

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