Monday 27 March 2017

Bodies of lost fishermen are finally recovered

A week after disappearance that sparked a massive search, trawler's crew finds victims

DON LAVERY

THE bodies of the two friends who drowned while fishing for lobster off Skerries more than a week ago were found in a trawler's fishing gear yesterday after one of the most extensive sea searches in recent years.

The sad discovery came in the early hours of Saturday morning as a fishing boat was trawling off Clogherhead, Co Louth.

The bodies of experienced fishermen Ronan Browne, 26, and David Gilsenan, 41, were found trapped in the trawl doors of the trawler, 'The Guiding Light', which is from Kilkeel, Co Down.

The trawler crew immediately contacted the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which sent the RNLI lifeboat from Clogherhead. The Naval vessel LE Ciara was also on the scene.

Initially, the trawler had reported finding just one casualty in the gear, but when the lifeboat arrived, the second body was discovered. The fishermen's bodies were found five miles east of Clogherhead and within a half an hour the all-weather lifeboat, the 'Doris Bleasdale' had taken the bodies into Clogherhead, where they were handed over to gardai. The discovery of the bodies was made about 10 miles from where it is thought that their small boat capsized.

Post-mortem examinations will be carried out before the distraught families can reclaim the bodies of their loved ones.

Yesterday, the assistant director for the Irish Coast Guard, Eugene Clonan, said there had been an extensive search and local effort to find the men's bodies.

He said the RNLI, the Coast Guard, Naval Service, gardai and many others had "stepped up to the plate" during the extensive search.

Agriculture, Food and Marine minister Simon Coveney -- whose father Hugh died off the coast in 1998 -- said he hoped the families would now get closure.

"There was a massive effort to try to bring closure for these poor families. Now they have the opportunity to grieve," he said.

Speaking on RTE radio, the minister said he still knew the naval diver who found his father. The diver, John Leech now heads up the Irish Water Safety Association.

"There is now some certainty for those very young families who are facing a tough time," he said.

Mary Courtney of the Skerries RNLI said she was struck by the sheer will of the local people to help during the search, describing it as "awe-inspiring".

Thousands of people took part in a march in support of the families during the week and to raise money for the rescue efforts.

"One man came down every morning with a tray of sandwiches and one little girl called in to give her confirmation money," she recalled.

A fund was set up to pay for diesel for boats used by local people in the search, as it was costing fishermen up to €1,000 a day.

The men had gone missing last Friday week as they checked their lobster pots off the Skerries islands. The pair were believed to have been working with 10 lobster pots off St Patrick's Island when the tragedy happened.

Their 17ft boat was found the following day near Clogherhead.

Mr Browne's wife, Linda, and Mr Gilsenan's wife, Suzanne, kept vigil at the harbour as other fishermen launched a search, backed up by the RNLI, Coast Guard, Naval Service and aircraft from the Coast Guard, Air Corps and gardai.

The men's boat, 'Lady Linda', was named after Mr Browne's wife. The couple married last October. Ronan Browne was a deep-sea mechanic, and he had fished in Loughshinny since childhood.

David Gilsenan, a father of two young children aged six and nine, was a marine engineer and a life-long fisherman. The pair were also involved with the local Skerries rugby club.

An investigation and report into the tragedy will now be completed by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.

A special prayer service of thanksgiving was held last night at the bandstand near the RNLI station in Skerries.

Sunday Independent

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