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Trawler tragedy survivor reveals how he desperately grabbed hold of life-jacket

THE only survivor of a trawler tragedy in which five men lost their lives has revealed he would have died as well but for desperately grabbing hold of a life-jacket.

Abdou Mohamad (41) was the only survivor of the 'Tit Bonhomme' trawler tragedy on January 15 2012 in Glandore Bay in west Cork.

The steel-hulled ‘Tit Bonhomme’ was torn apart by the force of the impact before 6am as Mr Mohamad, in harrowing evidence, revealed how the power of the sea literally destroyed the boat in a matter of minutes after it ran aground.

The Egyptian national was the only member of the six-strong crew to scramble to safety on Adam Island.

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.

The survivor said he was in his bunk when he felt the impact rock the boat.

All the crew gathered in the wheelhouse where Mr Hayes told Kevin Kershaw to use his mobile phone to raise the alarm.

However, the raging sea then began to batter the wheelhouse.

"The sea started hitting us..destroying everything. The sea water began coming through the broken glass..the glass had been smashed by the sea. Everybody started shouting to open the door. I opened the door and the power of the sea washed me out," Mr Mohamad said.

Such was the force of the waves that his life-jacket was ripped off as well as his clothing.

As he sank beneath the waves, he desperately grabbed as something passing and it turned out to be a life-jacket.

"If it wasn't for the life-jacket I would not have surfaced," he said.

Mr Mohamad spent over two hours in the water before he was able to drag himself ashore at Adam Island, using a navigation beacon as a direction as to where to swim.

He was frozen and exhausted and was wearing only his boxer shorts, a T-shirt and the partially ripped life-jacket.

The bodies of all five missing crewmen 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.

Online Editors