Once again: This time 23 years ago:
On Friday, February 6th, 1981, the IRA, after promises to hinder British ship movement off the Irish coast, bombed and sank a British coal boat: the Nellie M
. The thousand pound merchant vessel was located in Lough Foyle, between the coasts of Co. Derry and Donegal.
A dozen armed IRA Volunteers arrived at the docks in the fishing village of Moville and comandeered a pilot boat. The man in the pilot house was instructed to take seven of the volunteers with tons of explosives out to the coal boat, while the other five kept guard back on the docks.
Once aboard the Nellie M
, the IRA instructed the chief engineer of the ship that they were not fooling around. Knowing the situation was serious, the man agreed to cooperate and went down to the crew quarters to inform the sailors of the situation. The captain would later comment on the professionalism and understanding of the Volunteers.
Three Volunteers took to planting bombs while the remaining four kept watch on the crew. Bombs were planted in pre-planned points in the engine room. The crew were then instructed to don lifejackets and board the Nellie M
's life boat. The Volunteers attached a rope to the life boat and towed it using the commandeered pilot boat. When they were near shore, the life boat was set loose. Around this time, the explosions on the ship rocked the water.
Fires broke out on the deck of the ship, and they could be seen for miles around up and down the Donegal coast of Lough Foyle. The second blast was set for a few hours later, and went off as planned, finally bring water into the ship. By morning, the back half of the ship was submerged. Left on the boat was a warning that future merchant ships would meet the same fate, though towards the crews there was no malice.
The Nellie M
was valued at 3 million pounds while its cargo of coal constituted another million sterling. The outrage amongst Brits and Free Staters was immediate and the suggestion of armed guards on shipments from the "North" to Britain was exactly the effect the IRA hope for. It was another step in breaking the British policy of "normalisation."