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Storm Frank: Hardy seamen of Kilkeel can't get out to earn living

By Allan Preston

Published 31/12/2015

Michael Young, the harbour master, spent yesterday clearing up after the storm
Michael Young, the harbour master, spent yesterday clearing up after the storm

As Storm Frank's gale force winds whipped up waves around a battered Northern Ireland, Kilkeel's 100-strong fishing fleet was forced to remain in port.

Footage taken on Tuesday night showed giant waves crashing over the Co Down harbour's walls, and the two rivers leading into the fishing port washed up large amounts of debris - including a garden shed and a dead cow.

Michael Young, the harbour master, spent yesterday clearing up after the storm.

"It got so bad that the Coastguard felt that they had to be on scene," he said while examining overnight camera footage of the harbour.

"They did a very good job, keeping some of the more curious people from the area from running into danger down the pier, where the waves were breaking over, and prevented them getting washed away.

"When the waves are coming over the walls we call it green water, which is very, very strong and can wash cars and people away."

Michael said Storm Frank and unusual weather patterns over the past month were making life extremely difficult for the fishing fleet. He said: "Fishermen are only interested in wind, the strength and direction - the rain doesn't really bother us. But when it's windy the waves get up and it makes it unsafe."

A yellow warning for wind speeds was issued by the Met office yesterday, with speeds of up to 80mph recorded in some areas.

With around 100 vessels working different parts of the Irish Sea, every day not spent at sea puts extra financial pressure on the local skippers and crew.

"The fishermen are very frustrated and Santa Claus has got them all broke," said Michael. "They're keen to get out and make some more money for the New Year and they're just finding it extremely bad. They're not getting out for the three or four days in a row needed to clear their expenses and wages for the crew."

With unusual weather becoming more common, he argued that the Department of Agriculture wasn't doing enough to help.

"Without being too experienced with the actual policies, it's very obvious to the fishermen that they can see the farmers getting lots of help when there's bad weather and when they get livestock washed down the rivers," he said.

To illustrate the point, as well as removing debris and rubbish from the water, Michael and his team had the unenviable task of removing a dead cow.

"It's not as easy to see with the fishermen, you get to look at all their lovely boats all tied up in the harbour, but they're actually suffering by not being able to make any money," he said.

"When the harbour's empty the boats are making money - and when they're in the harbour they're not."

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