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Tragic trawler on autopilot when it crashed into island

A MARINE safety investigation has been unable to determine who, if anyone, was on watch in the wheelhouse of a trawler as it steamed directly into a rocky island with the loss of five lives.

The revelation came as a 14-month probe into the sinking of the 'Tit Bonhomme' trawler concluded that the tragedy was likely caused by such factors as crew fatigue, difficult sea conditions, navigation issues, insufficient watch keeping and a lack of special alarm systems in the wheelhouse.

The probe also found that there were only five immersion suits on the vessel which had six crew at the time.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) also found indications that the 21-metre French-built trawler was on auto-pilot when it struck Adam Island at the entrance to Glandore Harbour in west Cork.

Tracks of the doomed vessel's final moments show no major effort to veer away from the rocky island in the minutes before the collision.

Adam Island is regularly used as a navigation point for vessels entering the harbour and heading for the Glandore or Union Hall ports.

It has been estimated that the 'Tit Bonhomme' crew may have had five hours or less rest during their two days at sea fishing.

Scramble

The 'Tit Bonhomme' sank before 6am on January 15, 2012, with just one member of the six-strong crew – Egyptian national Abdou Mohamad (41) – managing to scramble to safety on the island.

Mr Mohamad, who was not on watch and was in the cabin when the vessel ran aground, lost his younger brother in the tragedy.

The five fishermen who died were skipper Michael Hayes (52), Kevin Kershaw (21), and three Egyptian fishermen, Wael Mohamad (32), Shaban Attia (26) and Saied aly Eldin (24). It was Mr Kershaw's first fishing trip.

The families have indicated they will not make any comment until the report is publicly released next week.

Caitlin Ni Aodha, wife of skipper Michael Hayes, said it was "a very sensitive time" for the families.

The trawler was stranded on the southern side of Adam Island at 5.35am before the ship was driven onto the south-western side of the island and its aluminium wheelhouse began to break up.

The last signal was received from the vessel at 5.43am.

The vessel was returning to port following a minor leak in one of its engine oil lines and difficulties with a bilge pump. However, neither problem contributed to the sinking.

The MCIB report identified key navigational issues and also noted that the trawler was not fitted with a Bridge Navigational and Watch Alarm System or an Off-Course Alarm.

Such systems might have warned the crew they were headed straight for the rocky island and helped prevent the disaster.

Irish Independent