John Dallat hails move to keep treasured coastguard station at Malin Head

The East Londonderry MLA John Dallat has welcomed the Irish government's decision to keep Ireland's most northerly coastguard station at Malin Head open.

The SDLP politician assiduously lobbied Irish government ministers in support of the County Donegal station and called on the Northern Ireland Minister of State, Mike Penning, to intervene.

In his previous job, Mr Penning decided to save the Bangor coastguard station, partly because of its links with Malin Head in monitoring marine safety.

Mr Dallat also researched the historic agreements under which Malin Head was handed over to the Irish authorities in 1950 to back his claim that its future had been guaranteed.

The SDLP man's interest in Malin Head cannot be put down to a general belief in north-south cooperation or the proximity of his constituency to the Malin waters referred to on the Shipping Forecast.

Instead it dates back to a specific incident in 1973.

At that time the young Dallat was teaching in Donegal when he met a bunch of divers carrying out a salvage operation on the wreck of the Laurentic, a sister ship of the Titanic, which hit a mine in 1917.

The Laurentic sank to the bottom of Lough Swilly, together with its cargo of 3,211 gold bars.

The vast majority of the gold bullion was salvaged in the decade after the loss of the Laurentic.

The team John Dallat hooked up with in the 1970s as a general "gofer" wasn't after gold, but remained keen to salvage some of the brass and copper machinery left on the wreck.

So it was that the future MLA found himself one of a crew of eight, in the middle of a storm in Lough Swilly, when the team's boat developed engine trouble.

As they drifted close to the rocks, the crew contacted Malin Head, who alerted a passing Polish coal boat.

At no great risk to itself, the coal boat threw a line to the stricken vessel and towed it to safety (and presumably a medicinal pint) at Portsalon harbour.

Midshipman Dallat is convinced that if it hadn't been for Malin Head coastguard he wouldn't be around today - in which case sessions of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee might not have been quite so gripping down through the years.

NB. In January 2013 the British Titanic Society pointed out that, although the Laurentic was built by Harland and Wolff and operated by the White Star line, it's not accurate to call it a "sister ship" as the vessels are not of virtually identical design.

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