The actions of the Irish Navy in sinking abandoned yacht Troll highlight the dangers of derelict vessels at sea

This week we learned that the Irish Navy had sunk a yacht, Troll, that had been abandoned by her owner and crew last October and had fetched up off the west coast of Ireland, where she was first spotted by a fisheries protection  aircraft.

She was later sunk by the frigate L. É. Eithne.

Good for the Irish Navy. The chances of a safe and economic salvage must have appeared very slim indeed. Derelict and unlit vessels present a serious hazard to other vessels.

Unless there is, from the outset, a serious and concerted effort to salvage the yacht by the owner or insurer, isn’t it a responsible action to open the seacocks as you go?

Insurers I’ve talked to argue that if you’ve been able to use a satellite phone to call for help, which most sailors now do, you should be able to make a quick call to an insurance broker to check if the boat can be salvaged. If not, you can inform them that your intention is to scuttle her.

That is not really as impractical as it sounds. In the case of one yacht sailing across the Atlantic a few years ago whose crew was evacuated after the rudder blade and stock fell out mid-Atlantic, the insurers did indeed agree that scuttling was the right thing to do. The skipper told me the insurance company paid out the claim in full within weeks.

But the consequences of leaving a boat far out at sea with no hope of recovery can be serious. It is a danger to other yachts and can later trigger other costly rescue missions.

The rescue centre manager for Falmouth Coastguard told me that sightings of a derelict vessel set in motion rescue missions “two or three times a year”  from this rescue centre alone.

One such rescue was launched a few summers ago after an OSTAR yacht had been rolled and dismasted, and the skipper abandoned her for the safety of a ship that had diverted. The boat continued to float and was later spotted by another ship’s crew.

They reported the derelict yacht but were unable to identify it. A second rescue swung into action and a Hercules C-130 flew from Newfoundland to try to make contact and drop a liferaft.

Scuttling a yacht presents its own dangers, for sure, but it’s something that could usefully be discussed on sea survival courses and at ocean preparation seminars.

Better, quicker communications have improved the chances of rescue and that’s a fantastic advance. But it’s also increasingly presenting sailors with a practical and ethical quandary that we don’t seem so well prepared for.

What do you think?