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Fishermen died after 'catastrophic' change of course, inquest hears

A CATASTROPHIC change of course was made just six minutes before a trawler steamed directly into a rocky island. Five fishermen became victims of the raging seas.

A marine expert told a Cork coroner's inquest he believed that one of the crew either turned off the auto-pilot on the 'Tit Bonhomme' or manually adjusted the course settings.

Instead of bypassing Adam Island, off Glandore Bay, and passing into a safe channel, the trawler sailed directly into the rocky cliffs at four knots.

However, Caitlin Ni hAodha, the widow of skipper Michael Hayes, was adamant that the course change was caused by stormy seas, which caused 'drift' in the auto-pilot.

Counsel for the Hayes family also suggested that one of the crew failed to wake the skipper in time, as was normal, to handle the entry into Glandore Bay on January 15, 2012.

Mrs Ni hAodha's five children were present at the inquest as verdicts of accidental death were recorded in all five cases.

The fishermen who died were Mr Hayes (52), Kevin Kershaw (21) and three Egyptian fishermen, Wael Mohamad (32), Shaban Attia (26) and Saied aly Eldin (24).

Only one crewman survived the tragedy, Egyptian national Abdou Mohamad (41).

Mrs Ni hAodha broke down yesterday and said it was the most difficult day that the families had endured since the tragedy occurred.

"Nothing that happens here today will ease the pain, loneliness and sorrow of the families. The skipper and crew of the 'Tit Bonhomme' made it one of the top whitefish boats in the south," she said.

FLOODED

Mrs Ni hAodha said fishing was "a hard life, a challenging life" but a career that offered peace and camaraderie.

"But five families have lost their loved ones and are grieving. We have lost (our loved one), our fishing boat and our livelihood," she sobbed.

Department of Transport marine surveyor Eoghan O'Toole said all the indications were that a catastrophic change of course was made by an unknown crewman.

The doomed trawler's last moments were tracked on a special Automatic Identity System (AIS), which showed that the course change was made at 5.29am some 1km from Adam Island.

Mr O'Toole said: "It required some human involvement. Either the auto-pilot was turned off or somebody turned the dial or moved the paddle to give course change."

It was unlikely that this had been caused by the weather.

Four of the six crew are known to have been in their bunks. Only Mr Hayes and Mr aly Eldin were not.

Mr Hayes' body was found in the sea dressed only in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, indicating that he had rushed into the wheelhouse.

Mr aly Eldin was found fully clothed, indicating that he was most likely in the wheelhouse in the minutes before the tragic collision.

The trawler impacted at 5.35am and all positioning contact was lost at 5.38am. It sank, not because its hull was pierced, but because the vessel flooded from its deck down. Mr O'Toole said that in the space of between 10 and 20 seconds over 30 tonnes of water would have gushed inside the vessel.

One of the victims, Kevin Kershaw, was on his first fishing expedition. His father, Paddy Kershaw, said he drew comfort from the fact that his son's 999 calls probably helped save Mr Mohamad's life.

"I got a great sense of good feeling when the coroner said his efforts and phone calls would probably have saved the life of the survivor," he said.

Mr aly Eldin died from hypothermia but the other four men died from drowning and trauma injuries.

Irish Independent