Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Irish trawler tragedy sparks massive search off Cork coast

Trawlers and small boats search the shoreline at Union Hall in West Cork as the search continues for five people who went missing after the Tit Bonhomme trawler struck rocks at the mouth of the harbour in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Rescue personnel on the pier at Union Hall in west Cork, after five people went missing after the Tit Bonhomme trawler struck rocks at the mouth of the harbour in the early hours of this morning.

Irish navy, Coast Guard and RNLI lifeboats have joined the search for for five men missing after a trawler sank off the west Cork coast.

The 21-metre Tit Bonhomme sank close to Union Hall harbour yesterday morning.

Kevin Kershaw, a 21-year-old student from Dublin but living with an aunt in Clonakilty, Co Cork, who was interested in taking up a career at sea, was on board with skipper Michael Hayes, a married father of five originally from Ring, Co Waterford, who had been living in Union Hall for years.

It is understood the doomed trip was Mr Kershaw's first time working at sea.

One of four Egyptian fishermen also on the trawler managed to escape and was rescued after scrambling on to rocks. He is in a comfortable condition at Cork University Hospital.

The others were the survivor's brother and two others, all were experienced fishermen and from the same village in the Alexandria region of Egypt.

Relatives, including the skipper's brother Chief Superintendent Tom Hayes, have spent the last day waiting on the pier in Union hall for news. Egyptian fishermen from other parts of the country have also travelled to west Cork to help in the search.

Dive teams are assessing conditions at the wreck. Shoreline searches involving the Civil Defence and volunteer teams are under way and two Coast guard helicopters, from Shannon and Waterford are also taking part. More than a dozen local boats are also out on the water helping the search.

There are investigations into fears the boat's engine may have cut out before the crash or if the navigational systems malfunctioned.

The crew made a distress call to the Coast Guard at around 6am on Sunday morning, but it was cut off and all radio contact was lost.

The fishermen were believed to be in the wheel house and possibly asleep when it went down.

Badly damaged and torn liferafts from the vessel were recovered yesterday.

Strong winds and heavy seas had hampered the search and rescue mission, which included the Naval vessel LE Niamh.

According to the RNLI, conditions at sea improved this morning and visibility is good.

A dive team co-ordinated by the Navy will examine the wreckage, which is grounded on the seabed and partially visible at low tide. Heavy swells and southerly winds have prevented divers from getting to the wreck.

Declan Geoghegan, Coast Guard operations manager, said: "I'd be very surprised if we are looking for survivors at this stage."

Mr Geoghegan said it was possible bodies could be still onboard the Tit Bonhomme, if it went down quickly and they became trapped.

"It's not that easy an area to search," he added.

The Tit Bonhomme was formerly a French-registered trawler, which was co-owned by Mr Hayes until recently, when he took sole control. The skipper was the founder of the Helvic lifeboat station and he is married to Caitlin Ni Aodha, spokeswoman for the Irish Fishermen's Organisation.

It is believed the crew left shore on Friday but were not expected back before Sunday. Garda interviews with the survivor are expected to throw light on what exactly happened.

Local parish priest Fr Michael Curran said the close-knit community was devastated.

"The tragedy that has hit this community is awful for everyone," he said.

"Something like this affects everybody deeply.

"A lot of people here are involved in fishing, it's a big thing in Union Hall."

Just last month, three fishermen were rescued from a life raft after their trawler sank at the same spot.

The Jeanette Roberta was sailing out from Union Hall pier when it went down close to Adam, the larger of the two rocks at the narrow entrance to the harbour.

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