Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Don’t jail skipper, says mother who lost son in sea tragedy

The mother of a fisherman who perished in an accident less than a mile from Ardglass harbour has urged a judge not to jail the skipper of the vessel.

Maureen Bogues, whose son Connor was one of two crewmen who died when the Greenhill trawler hit rocks close to the harbour mouth, said skipper Conrad Zych has "suffered enough" since the tragedy.

Zych (28) from Downpatrick Road, Ardglass, has been charged with two counts of manslaughter. He pleaded guilty to unlawfully killing crew members Connor Bogues (24) and 22-year old Donall Gibson.

Zych was the only man on board the Greenhill to survive the vessel's sinking, which happened on January 19, 2006. Mr Gibson's body was recovered two days later but Mr Bogues' remains have never been found.

As the case was opened against Zych at Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, defence barrister Eugene Grant QC told the hearing Mrs Bogues wanted to speak to the court.

The mother-of-three not only lost her son but tragedy struck 11 months after the sinking of the Greenhill when her husband Paul was killed as he stood at the harbour talking to local fishermen.

The grieving father was struck by a freak wave which caused him to fall and hit his head. He died as a result of the wound.

Addressing Mr Justice Hart, Mrs Bogues told the court her son had been a fisherman for six years prior to the accident and was a father to two young children.

When asked about her son's relationship with Zych, she said: "Not only were they workmates, they socialised together. Conrad was very friendly with the whole family, not just Connor."

She said: "I just feel all the families have been through enough, including Conrad's family and Conrad himself. I think it should just end here and you should let him go home to his family."

Mrs Bogues said Conrad has "suffered enough" and would have to live with the deaths of his two friends and colleagues for the rest of his life.

The court heard the Greenhill, with the three men on board, was returning to the harbour with a catch of prawns on board when it hit rocks.

As skipper of the vessel, Zych should have been keeping guard in the wheelhouse but when the vessel hit the rocks he was helping Mr Gibson and Mr Bogues sort the catch out on the deck. None of the men were wearing life-jackets.

Zych reversed the engine when it hit the rocks but the vessel began to fill with water in a very short space of time. The liferaft was activated as the boat was sinking but it inflated upside down and when it righted itself, the only person left holding on to it was Zych. A search operation was mounted and Zych was found clinging to the liferaft.

Prosecutor Gordon Kerr QC said the case against Zych came down to negligence as he should have been keeping watch as the vessel approached the harbour — particularly as he was aware of the the rocks and given the " deteriorating weather conditions".

Defence barrister Eugene Grant QC told Mr Justice Hart Zych came from a family of Ardglass fishermen who were hard-working and well-respected within the local community.

Revealing all three men were "close friends" as well as colleagues, Mr Grant said Zych was "truly remorseful".

The barrister said his client had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charges as he recognised and accepted his failure to keep a look-out as they approached the harbour in difficult weather conditions. Instead, Mr Grant said, Zych decided to help his colleagues with their catch.

Telling the court it was "quite clear the crew of three were understaffed", Mr Grant spoke of the difficulties facing the fishing industry and said it had become common practice for skippers to both supervise and work with deck hands to process their catch due to a lack of manpower.

Mr Justice Hart deferred sentencing Zych until Thursday.

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