Saturday 1 October 2016

Three brothers drowned after safety device failed to activate

Conor Kane

Published 06/11/2015 | 02:30

Kenny, Shane and Paul Bolger
Kenny, Shane and Paul Bolger
The quiet fishing village of Passage East, Waterford, was home to Kenny, Shane and Paul Bolger

An "unspeakable tragedy" fell upon an extended family when three brothers drowned after a catastrophic event caused their boat to sink, an inquest has heard.

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Paul (49), Kenny (47) and Shane (44) Bolger, who were all natives of the fishing village of Passage East in Co Waterford, died on June 12, 2013 after the EPIRB (electronic position indicating radio beacon) device, which should have sent a beacon to the emergency services when their vessel ran into trouble, failed to go off.

They left Dunmore East in their fishing boat, the Dean Leanne, at 7am to check lobster pots. The alarm was raised by their uncle, Joe Whitty, after 5pm when he realised they had not returned to the harbour and he also set off himself to look for them between Dunmore East and Brownstown Head.

"I later heard on VHF that three casualties had been recovered," he said.

The three bodies were recovered by the Coast Guard's rescue helicopter and the Dunmore East lifeboat after 6pm.

Yesterday's inquest in Tramore heard rigor mortis had already set in in each case, meaning some time had elapsed before their bodies were taken out of the water near Brownstown Head in Tramore Bay.

A fourth brother, Anthony Bolger, who co-owned the boat with his brothers, didn't go fishing with them that day as he had undergone heart surgery the previous April.

He told coroner Dr Eoin Maughan the EPIRB device carried at all times by the boat was tested earlier in the year and found to be okay.

When the device was found on Tramore beach three days after the accident, the position of the button on the device suggested one of the brothers had tried to manually activate it.

Subsequent testing found it to be "a dud", Anthony Bolger told the inquest under questioning from Elaine Morgan BL, representing the family. He agreed that it "didn't do its job".

That particular model of EPIRB was later recalled by its Australian manufacturers, Standard Communications PTY Ltd, following a safety alert.

Pathologist Dr Fergus McSweeney said death was caused by drowning, with hypothermia a contributory factor.

The jury returned a verdict of death by drowning in each case and agreed with the coroner to return a verdict of "misadventure" as their deaths were "the unintended outcome" of a fishing trip.

The Bolger family asked a number of recommendations, including the that State fund the supply of personal alarm devices to all people who go out on fishing vessels.

After the inquest, their solicitor Emmet Halley, who described what happened to the Bolger family as an "unspeakable tragedy", said: "Their thoughts are obviously with the other members of the family who are not here."

Irish Independent

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