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Ralph Riegel: Tragedy 2 km from mainland


The search continues by air and sea for five missing fishermen off Glandore Harbour in Co Cork yesterday

The search continues by air and sea for five missing fishermen off Glandore Harbour in Co Cork yesterday

Kevin Kershaw

Kevin Kershaw

The 'Tit Bonhomme'

The 'Tit Bonhomme'


FIVE people, including a young man on his first fishing trip and three Egyptian crewmen, were feared drowned last night after a trawler ploughed into an island just 2km from the mainland.

The 'Tit Bonhomme', a 21-metre fishing vessel skippered by experienced fisherman Michael Hayes (52), crashed into an island off west Cork at 5.50am yesterday.

Both Mr Hayes and Mr Kershaw, along with Shaban Farrg (24), Weal ad Elgwad and Said ali Eldine (26), were still missing last night as the extensive search was called off due to fading light.

Another Egyptian crew member, Mohammed ad Elgwad (38) -- the older brother of Weal -- is now thought to be the only survivor after he managed to swim to an island before being rescued.

Last night, the heartbroken father of Mr Farrg said he had "no words" to describe the tragedy that appears to have claimed five lives.

Mohammed Farrg mounted an emotional pierside vigil in Union Hall.

Investigators will examine whether a navigation systems failure may have been at fault for the crash, which occurred as the 'Tit Bonhomme' was travelling back to harbour as a storm approached.

The French-built trawler, crashed into one of twin islands -- known as Adam and Eve -- at the entrance to Glandore and Union Hall harbours at 5.50am.

The steel-hulled vessel was torn apart by the impact, and two life rafts and four life vests subsequently recovered from the water were badly damaged.

Mr Kershaw, from Clonakilty in Cork, was a FAS trainee and had assured his family that he'd be fine on the fishing expedition. The young man celebrated his 21st birthday last month.

"He was always interested in the fishing business and he just decided to head out on Thursday night," a cousin, who didn't want to be named, told the Irish Independent.

The girl said they only realised Kevin was going to sea for the first time when he contacted them by mobile phone last week.

"He texted my mam -- his aunt -- on Thursday night and said he was going out. She texted back saying 'be careful' and he texted back and said he would. But that was the last she heard," she said.

"It is just desperate. We're all devastated. But we're going to stay here until he is found."

Mr Hayes is the brother of local garda Chief Supt Tom Hayes. He is a father of four from Helvick in west Waterford, and usually fished out of Union Hall.

Last night, Chief Supt Hayes said his family were totally devastated.

"We are devastated but we are also aware that there are other families here who are facing the loss of loved ones," he said.

Chief Supt Hayes said his family were deeply moved by the huge support shown for the rescue operation and the number of volunteers who came forward to help.

Survivor Mr ad Elgwad was airlifted to Cork University Hospital and was last night in a stable condition after being treated for acute hypothermia.

A friend of the missing men, Mohammed, said the small but tightknit Egyptian community was reeling from the loss of three young men.

"We are a small group so this is really hard for us. All of those onboard had plenty of experience, some of them many, many years -- it is devastating," he said.

Marine Minister Simon Coveney last night visited Union Hall pier and met relatives.

A special tent was set up on the pier for the families.

A huge search operation was mounted from 5.53am -- when the first garbled 999 call was received -- involving three RNLI lifeboats, one Naval Service vessel, two Irish Coastguard Sikorsky helicopters, 18 trawlers and smaller boasts as well as almost 100 volunteers.

However, the search operation was hampered by heavy seas and a huge quantity of debris on the sea surface, including fish boxes, nets and parts of the 'Tit Bonhomme'.

The LE Niamh will now remain in Glandore for the next few days to facilitate the operations of a navy diving team that arrived on the scene from Galway.

Diving is expected to commence at first light today, with heavy seas preventing divers from operating last night.

John Draper, from Valentia Coastguard, said a huge rescue operation was under way within minutes of the alert.

"We launched the Shannon helicopter and the Waterford helicopter, the Courtmacsherry and the Baltimore lifeboats and also the Toe Head boat, in addition to Coastguard units on the shore," he said.

It emerged last night that the 'Tit Bonhomme' sank at the precisely the same location as another Union Hall-based trawler, the 'Jeanette Roberto', on December 11.

That vessel also ran into the rocks at the harbour after losing power, but all three crew members were rescued.

Mr Hayes's friend and fellow skipper Martin Deasy said the tragedy had rocked the tightknit west Cork fishing community.

"We thought it was a different boat at first -- but when we came to the scene, the EPIRB belonging to the boat was found. And it was the 'Tit Bonhomme'," he said.

"Last night was a very poor night -- we honestly don't know what happened. We just don't know. The conditions out there are very difficult -- it is force six or seven."

Mr Deasy -- who took part in the search operation throughout yesterday -- described his friend as a skilled fisherman.

"Without a doubt he is a very, very experienced skipper -- I know him very, very well."

Irish Independent