Tuesday 23 October 2018

Only a short distance from shore, yet so far from safety

Malin Head pier where the victims were brought ashore after their fishing boat capsized. Photo: North West Newspix
Malin Head pier where the victims were brought ashore after their fishing boat capsized. Photo: North West Newspix

Kathy Donaghy in Carndonagh

The sea would have been flat calm as the 15-foot boat pulled out of the pier at Port Ronan on the western side of Malin Head.

A day's fishing stretched ahead for the two men and the teenager on-board the fibreglass boat.

For Gerry Doherty (60) this place was home. Doherty is a very common name in Inishowen which means practically every Doherty has a nickname. Because his family moved to Carndonagh from Malin when he was still at school, he was always known as Gerry Malin.

On the boat alongside him were 16 year-old Thomas Weir and another man, Dessie Keenan, both believed to be friends of the family on his wife's side.

It is not known at this stage what caused the boat to capsize, but its three occupants ended up in the water for hours before anyone knew of their distress.

Because this western side of Malin Head is quieter than the busier eastern side, where there would be many people walking and boating, their cries for help went unheard for a long time. At 3.35pm John McCarter, RNLI operations manager, got a call from the Coast Guard telling him they had an emergency in Malin Head.

Two boats were sent out from Buncrana. Many of their 10-strong crew were involved in the Buncrana Pier tragedy in March 2016.

Despite their best efforts, they were too late to save Mr Doherty. Thomas was airlifted to hospital, but he too died.

Malin Head has been plunged into a deep sadness at the loss of life. Malin Head parish priest Fr Peter Devlin said the sense of sadness and loss was felt very deeply.

Over the years many fishermen have been lost here. The waters around the head are some of the most treacherous in the world. Even on a fine day, spring tides can make currents unpredictable.

Local businessman Ali Farren said he couldn't put a number on the locals lost to the sea: "It's a figure I don't even want to think about. Malin Head is not a stranger to this."

Investigators will try to establish what happened and why the three were in the water for so long before they were able to raise the alarm.

While sound carries easily across water on a calm day, because they were on the quiet side of the head meant their chances of being heard were lessened. Only a short distance from shore. Yet so far from safety.

Irish Independent

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