A TWO day coroner’s inquest opens today (Tuesday) into the death of five fishermen who drowned when their trawler struck rocks and sank at the entrance to a west Cork bay.
The steel-hulled ‘Tit Bonhomme’ was torn apart by the force of the impact at 6am on January 15 last year as it entered Glandore Bay in west Cork.
Just one member of the six-strong crew, Egyptian national Abdou Mohamad (41), managed to scramble to safety on wave-lashed Adam Island which the trawler had steamed directly into.
Mr Mohamad is set to give crucial evidence at the inquest today.
The five fishermen who died included skipper Michael Hayes (52), Kevin Kershaw (21) and three Egyptian fishermen, Wael Mohamad (32), Shaban Attia (26) and Saied aly Eldin (24).
Mr Kershaw was on his first ever fishing expedition.
Mr Mohamad was the younger brother of the sole survivor.
All five bodies were recovered after a mammoth search operation led by west Cork fishermen and locals.
Last month, a 14 month Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report into the tragedy said it was most likely caused by a number of factors including crew fatigue and navigational issues.
The MCIB was unable to determine who, if anyone, was in the wheelhouse when the trawler ran aground.
There were also indications the vessel was on auto-pilot at the time.
Critically, the trawler was not equipped with high-tech watch alarm systems which may have helped avert the tragedy.
That finding of crew fatigue has been challenged by one leading fisherman’s organisation which said that the skipper and crew were extremely experienced and there was nothing to indicate excessive working hours.
Marine Minister Simon Coveney has already warned that lessons must be learned from the ‘Tit Bonhomme’ tragedy.
Mr Coveney revealed a new safety trawler campaign will be launched in June with the Department of the Marine, the Irish Coastguard, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
The campaign will pointedly be launched in Union Hall, the west Cork fishing village where the ‘Tit Bonhomme’ was heading when it struck a rock and broke up.
“That (report) is difficult reading. It is difficult reading for the families concerned and for the friends and colleagues of (skipper) Michael Hayes and difficult reading for so many of us who were emotionally involved in that difficult time,” Mr Coveney said.
“But that is a process we must go through and move on from and learn lessons from to ensure that we do everything we possibly can in the future to make the sure that the lessons from that tragedy (are learned),” the minister added.
Mr Coveney said the industry must now do everything possible to avoid such future tragedies.
“We have too much tragedy in the fishing industry…we must all work together to ensure that we do what other countries have managed to do by learning lessons and then insisting on new standards and new approaches to the way we do our business.”