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Navy veterans honoured for saving more than 80 lives on burning ship in 1962

Published 01/09/2016

Pat O Mathuna, left, and William Mynes fought a fire saving 80 lives on the LE Cliona in 1962
Pat O Mathuna, left, and William Mynes fought a fire saving 80 lives on the LE Cliona in 1962

Navy veterans have been honoured more than 50 years on for their bravery in firefighting and lifesaving on a crippled ship.

Lieutenant Pat O Mathuna, 86, and Stoker William Mynes, 73, fought a boiler room blaze on the LE Cliona on May 29 1962 after a depth charge exploded prematurely during a training exercise off Cork.

They have been given Scrolls of Commendation alongside Maurice Egan, chief engine room artificer on the ship, while another was posthumously awarded to the family of Chief Stoker Gerry O'Callaghan.

The awards were offered after a campaign was launched as the were sailors were not recommended for medals by senior officers in the 1960s despite more than 80 lives being saved.

Mr Mynes admitted to a few nerves at the ceremony on the LE Niamh at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin, but said the day was about recognition.

"I'm just getting used to the idea of it now," he said.

A separate ceremony will be held later in the month when a plaque will be unveiled at the Naval Service headquarters in Haulbowline, Cork, to remember the crewmen's endeavours.

Paul Kehoe, junior defence minister, awarded the scrolls which officials said were f or their brave and decisive actions in bringing the fire under control.

"Each one of these four men fearlessly faced difficulty, danger, and pain while successfully extinguishing the fire that had taken hold on board the LE Cliona.

"The swift and selfless endeavours of each one of these four men ensured that tragedy was avoided and not a single life was lost," he said.

"Even with the passage of time, their endeavours are not forgotten."

The force of the blast from the depth charge blew the corvette ship several feet out of the water and ruptured oil lines sparking the lethal fire below deck.

The LE Cliona, a former Royal Navy ship, was 20km from shore, off Daunt Rock, near Roches Point, when the blaze took hold.

A large group of media including an RTE film crew and Irish Examiner and Irish Independent reporters were on board the ship when the exercise turned into a full-scale emergency.

With virtually no protection, Mr Mynes, 19 at the time, ordered two younger stokers to evacuate while he went into the confined room to cut off oil supplies, suffering burns on his arms, hands and face for his bravery.

The ship's second-in-command, Mr O Mathuna, left the bridge and joined Mr Mynes below deck and fought the fire for 40 minutes.

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