ARSONISTS have targeted a cruiser type boat specially fitted out for an autistic youngster at Portglenone.
It was burned at its private mooring on the River Bann, but the crime was only discovered after the event on Thursday past when the young girl's brother did a routine check to re-charge the boat's battery.
He was shocked to find that the cabin area had been set on fire and completely destroyed, causing the fibreglass hull also to melt and let in water.
The vessel's remains were 99% submerged with only the steel security chains keeping it from completely disappearing to the bottom of the river.
The boat had been previously used in the Lough Neagh pollen industry until 1997 when it was bought and re-fitted by its present owner and former Magherafelt councillor, John Junkin.
It had extra steel surround rails and a full complement of safety flotation equipment and electronics.
All were destroyed, as was the 80 hp diesel engine and automatic transmission. Only the phosphor-bronze propeller was saved on account of it being naturally under the water during the time of the incident.
Mr Junkin said that he was most disappointed that someone was minded not only to trespass on a well secured vessel but to actually wantonly destroy it.
"It appears that the culprits poured petrol or some other flammable material all over it as every surface part of the 24-foot long vessel was well burnt," he said.
He went on to say that his daughter would find it very difficult to understand why her routine outings and picnics on the beautiful surroundings of the Bann and Lough Beg,have now come to an abrupt end.
It is understood that the fuel tank was only a quarter full and did not ignite. Only a minor amount of diesel escaped into the waterway.
The remains of the hull have since been taken out of the water by a local contractor and stored in the meantime for evidence gathering purposes. The jetty which was also seriously damaged has been removed for public safety.
The police were immediately called out when the crime was first discovered and there is now a live PSNI investigation in progress. Ballymena police would like to know if anyone saw suspicious activity around this boat and its jetty in recent days.
The owner said that it was somewhat ironic that he had made arrangements to take the boat home for painting and maintenance just as soon as winter sets in.