Military Wiki
Attacks on shipping in Lough Foyle
Part of The Troubles
File:Nellie M sunk.jpg
The coaster Nellie M after the bombing
Location Lough Foyle, off County Londonderry
Date 6 February 1981
23 February 1982
Target 2 cargo ships
2,000 BRT
Attack type
Ship hijacking, bombing
Weapons 2 pilot boats
4 explosive charges
Deaths none
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Provisional Irish Republican Army
Motive To hinder British shipping around Derry

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out two bomb attacks against British coal ships in February 1981 and February 1982 at Lough Foyle, a large inlet between County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland and County Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland. Both vessels were sunk, but their crews reached the coastline safely in lifeboats.

Early attacks on shipping

There had been a number of attacks on small vessels by the IRA before 1981. On April 1971, a Royal Navy survey launch was blown up at the port of Baltimore, in the Irish Republic. The boat, the Stork, was towed out to sea and destroyed by an explosive device before dawn, while the crew was ashore.[1] Another British boat, the Puffin, received minor damaged in the same action.[2] Both launches were attached to HMS Hecate.[3]

Between February and October 1972 the Provisional IRA carried out two bombings against sand barges at Lough Neagh. Two IRA members were killed by the premature explosion of one of the devices, while two of the barges were sunk in a second incident, with a loss of £80,000.[4][5] These barges were probably the Lough Neagh and the Ballyginniff.[6]

The killing of Lord Mountbatten and three other persons at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, took place when they were on board Mountbatten's fishing boat, the Shadow V, on August 27, 1979.[7]

The background

The declared IRA's aim was to disrupt the maritime traffic out and from the Londonderry Port, on the east bank of the lough. They also intended to force British and Irish authorities to deploy security guards on board the merchant ships.[8] The IRA claimed that they regarded the ships as "commercial targets".[9]

On the British side, the Bird class patrol boats HMS Cygnet and HMS Kingfisher were already assigned by the Royal Navy to protect the waterways of the province. Their mission was to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Republic.[10] These warships were often shot at by the IRA, especially from Carlingford Lough.[10] The Cygnet narrowly avoided two .50 rounds fired by a sniper in South Armagh.[11]

Sinking of the Nellie M

File:Nellie m.jpg

The coaster Nellie M in 1974

The Nellie M was a coaster ship of 782 BRT, launched in 1972 at Yorkshire. She was owned by S. William Coe & Co. Ltd. of Liverpool at the time of the attack, which took place on 6 February 1981. The vessel was at anchor barely 300 yards (270 m) from the Republic’s shore, awaiting for proceeding up the river. The coal ship had departed from Liverpool with a cargo valued at £ 1 million.[12] A team of 12 IRA men, meanwhile, had hijacked a pilot boat at a pier on Moville, on the northwest bank of the inlet. Five of the group remained watching on shore, while another seven members of the ASU, carrying two high explosive charges, forced the skipper to take them to the British coal ship. Once on board, the cell informed her captain about their intentions and ordered him to gather the crew and to get his men into the lifeboat. Four IRA members supervised the evacuation. At the same time, three others planted the charges in the engine room. The hijacked motor launch then took in tow the lifeboat, leaving her adrift close to the eastern shore, and headed back for Moville. As the lifeboat reached the beach, the first explosion shook the Nellie M. Huge flames, visible from several miles away, engulfed her bridge. A second blast, some hours later, blew up the bulkheads and the ship began to sink. The morning after, her stern was submerged. The hull was raised in 1982.[13]

Sinking of the St. Bedan

The next year, the IRA was able to repeat the same operation against another British coal ship, the St. Bedan, bound from Glasgow to Derry. The 1,250 BRT Bedan, built in Clyde and also launched in 1972, was owned by J & A Gardner & Co. Ltd. of Glasgow.[14] On February 23, 1982, the ship was at anchor off Derry, awaiting the tide to proceed upstream.

This time the IRA boarding party was composed of 12 volunteers. The attack was again launched from the pilot boat based at Moville, and after the explosions, the cargo vessel sank on her starboard side in some 15 meters of water.[15] She was raised and scrapped by November 1982.[14] The lifeboat with the crewmembers was towed to the shoreline in the same way that in the case of Nellie M.[16]



The RFA Fort Victoria, which was crippled by the IRA shortly after her launching in 1990 near Belfast.

One of the unexpected consequences triggered by the bombings was the debate in the Oireachtas about the dispute with the United Kingdom on the legal jurisdiction over the waterways in Northern Ireland.[17][18] Indeed, the salvage of the Nellie M was conducted by an Irish company, and her wreckage was sold to an Irish ship owner, who refurbished the ship under the name of Ellie. The coal ship was subsequently bought by several companies. She was lengthened by seven meters and renamed Trimix . Since 2000 she is managed by a Colombian company after being rechristened Dove.[12] The St. Bedan was instead declared a constructive total loss and scrapped at Liverpool.[14]

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force increased their patrols in Northern Ireland waters following the attacks.[19] A bigger naval target was hit by the IRA several years later (1990), when an unknown number of its members managed to board the RFA Fort Victoria at anchor near Belfast, shortly after her launching. They planted two large bombs in her engine room. One of the devices exploded, damaging her considerably; the second one was successfully defused.[20]


  1. The Sydney Morning Herald - 22 Abr 1971
  2. Parliamentary Debate - 28 April 1971
  3. Parliamentary Debate - 26 April 1971
  4. Ardoyne Commemoration Project: Ardoyne: the untold truth. Beyond the Pale, 2002, page 104. ISBN 1-900960-17-6
  5. Deutsch, Richard and Magowan, Vivian: Northern Ireland, 1968-73: 1968-74, a Chronology of Events. Blackstaff Press, 1973, page 231
  6. Heritage Boat Association: Lough Neagh - Sand Barges - Various
  7. IRA bombs kill Mountbatten and 17 soldiers The Guardian, 28 August 1979
  8. Random Ramblings from a Republican
  9. IRA warns British ships Associated Press, 9 February 1981
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ripley and Chappel, pg. 30
  11. Harnden, pg. 400
  12. 12.0 12.1 Nellie M history and profile
  13. Saiorse 32, 06/02/2006 From the Derry Journal, 3 February 2011
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 St. Bedan history and profile
  15. I.R.A. Guerrillas Destroy A British Cargo Ship, New York times, February 24 1982
  16. The Montreal Gazette, 24 February 1982 From Associated Press
  17. Oireachtas debate, March 31 1981
  18. Oireachtas debate, June 30 1982
  19. Navy To Step Up Patrols After IRA Sinks Coaster by David Steele. The Glasgow Herald, 24 February 1982
  20. Interview to shipbuilder Sir John Parker published by Sunday Times, 13 March 2006

Further reading

Coordinates: 55°10′34″N 7°3′50″W / 55.17611°N 7.06389°W / 55.17611; -7.06389

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