Saturday 18 January 2020

'We really don't know what happened' - son of fisherman who died in Wexford tragedy says as search continues for second man

  • One fisherman dead and another missing, feared drowned

  • Son of the man who died says both crewmen were experienced

Fishing vessels taking part in the search for the missing fisherman off Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Fishing vessels taking part in the search for the missing fisherman off Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford. Picture: Steve Humphreys
The Wexford-based Alize. Photo: Tony Muldoon
Kilmore Quay
Joe Sinnott

Conor Feehan, Allison Bray and Robin Schiller

Air and sea searches have continued off the Wexford Coast this morning for a fisherman missing since Saturday night.

Willie Whelan, who is in his 40s, was fishing off Hook Head with another man, Joe Sinnott (65), who was winched from the sea and rushed to hospital but who died later.

The tragedy has hit the close-knit communities of Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and the surrounding villages and townlands.

There were fears poor weather conditions would hamper the search operation today but despite very unfavourable conditions, a number of RNLI boats and Irish Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 117 were deployed this morning.

Father-of-four Joe Sinnott was out fishing for scallops when his boat sank
Father-of-four Joe Sinnott was out fishing for scallops when his boat sank

The Irish Naval vessel, the LÉ Ciara, was also redeployed off the coastline from 6am to act as on-scene coordinator.

Two RNLI lifeboats from Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay were deployed shortly after 9am, with conditions described as “very, very poor” with sea swells of up to six metres.

However conditions have since calmed in the last hour and searches are expected to continue throughout the afternoon.

Naval Service crews, including a navy dive team, are on standby to assist in the search operation but have not yet been officially requested while weather conditions are also unfavourable for dive crews to operate in at present.

A massive search operation began when the Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) from the 12-metre fishing boat Alize automatically alerted Coast Guard personnel at around 10.30pm on Saturday.

This beacon operates when it is submerged in water, and could indicate that the boat sank quickly, giving the two-man crew no time to radio for help.

They had been fishing for scallops six miles south of Hook Head.

Mr Sinnott, a father of four and grandfather of nine, was from the Seaview area of Kilmore Quay.

Neighbours and friends yesterday gathered at the house he shared with his wife Mary to comfort her and the Sinnott family on their loss.

"We really don't know what happened. It's too early to tell. The first we knew was around 11pm after the signal from the boat was received by the Coast Guard in Dublin who then in turn contacted the owner," said Mr Sinnott's son, Michael.

"It's hard to believe. He was so many years at sea, and the man who was with him too, so whatever happened wasn't down to a lack of experience."

"He was a hard worker. They were scallop fishing, which would have been a 24-hour trip with a two-man crew.

"The boat was in good condition."

After being taken from the sea Mr Sinnott was transferred to University Hospital in Waterford but later died.

His funeral will take place on Wednesday.

The family of Mr Whelan was also being comforted by neighbours and friends as they awaited news.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his condolences to those affected, saying: "As the search continues, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing fisherman, and those of his bereaved colleague."

He also thanked the Coast Guard staff and volunteers for their ongoing efforts.

"This morning I spoke to the Director of the Irish Coast Guard, Eugene Clonan, on behalf of the Irish Government to thank him and his teams for their role in this search, in exceptionally difficult circumstances off the Wexford coast.

"As a former Minister for Transport, I am very conscious of the brave service provided by the Coast Guard’s staff and volunteers right around our coastline. I also acknowledged the vital assistance of the RNLI, the Civil Defence and other volunteers in this search and throughout the year.

"The Defence Forces is also providing assistance in this search, with the LE Ciara acting as a co-ordinating vessel. In my role as Minister for Defence, I assured Mr Clonan that the Defence Forces will be available to provide further assistance if required," Mr Varadkar said.

Wexford Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Whelan said Mr Whelan had only married five months ago.

"The family are distraught," he told Independent.ie.

"I spoke with his father at Hook Head and he said he saw him out fishing and had expected him to be back in just an hour-and-a-half.

"The family are just holding out hope for a rescue or recovery."

Search conditions yesterday were difficult, with a strong wind blowing onshore and visibility hampered by rain.

Conditions changed dramatically within minutes, and as the light in Hook Head lighthouse was switched on at around 4.30pm and darkness fell, visibility was very poor.

Members of the Coast Guard gathered at the lighthouse, and a rescue helicopter swept back and forth across the choppy seas.

Lifeboats and fishing vessels could also be seen searching.

The search was called off due to fading light and unfavourable weather conditions shortly after 4.30pm.

Irish Coast Guard helicopters 116 and 117 returned to land.

And the RNLI lifeboats from Kilmore Quay, Fethard, and Dunmore East returned to their bases.

Many local fishing vessels were also involved in the search which was being co-ordinated by the LÉ Ciara off Hook Head.

Some items from the stricken boat have been spotted in the water and recovered.

The trawler, a scallop fishing vessel, was said to be in good condition and working in good sea conditions when it sank.

The boat is a steel-hulled vessel built in the UK in 1989.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said the sinking of the trawler was "a hugely tragic incident that has shocked the local community".

Irish Independent

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