A major security operation will begin in Co Mayo today when the ship that will lay the Corrib gas pipeline arrives to begin the most controversial stage of Shell EP Ireland’s project in the region. The Irish Times has learned the Solitaire vessel will arrive in the waters off Co Mayo this afternoon. It is expected to anchor close to the coast in Broadhaven Bay, near Belmullet, overnight before beginning pipelaying work tomorrow.
Dredging works preparing the seabed for the pipe have been ongoing around the clock in recent weeks in the stretch of water off Glengad beach, the landfall site for the pipeline.
A fleet of Garda boats and vessels staffed by Shell’s security contractor, I-RMS, have been preventing people opposed to the project from paddling out to the dredger in kayaks in a bid to disrupt the works.
Informed sources said, weather permitting, the Solitaire will spend at least five days close to the shore putting the first sections of the pipeline in place.
Once the first sections are down the vessel will then lay the pipe at a much quicker rate, covering up to 5km a day until the 81km to the Corrib gas fields are covered with pipe.
It means the Solitaire will be out of range of the protesters’ kayaks, which are launched from the shore, in less than a week.
Informed sources said they expect the protesters to engage in an intense period of disruption in coming days in a bid to prevent the first section of the pipe being completed close to the shore.
"They have a relatively small window of opportunity to disrupt the pipelaying so we’ll probably see a lot of activity in the water over the weekend and into next week," said one source.
While a number of protesters have come into the area from abroad and other parts of Ireland numbers are relatively small ahead of what looks likely to be a key week for the protesters.
However, sources said it was possible protester numbers could significantly swell immediately the Solitaire arrives.
Gardaí in rigid inflatable boats will patrol the waters in coming days. They will be joined by I-RMS staff in their own vessels and by safety boats contracted by Shell.
Between 250 and 300 gardaí are now in place in the area. A Naval Service vessel was on its way to Broadhaven Bay last night. A second vessel may be drafted in.
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