Sunday 19 January 2020

Remembering the bravery of Michael Quinn

30th anniversary of seaman's death

Hubert Murphy - The Diary

January 31st next will be a poignant one for many in the naval service.

On that date - 30 years ago - a young man from Drogheda lost his life going to the rescue of a vessel in distress in Bantry Bay.

Hopefully - and no doubt something is planned - the name of Michael Quinn will be honoured again at his memorial by the banks of the Boyne at Scotch Hall. It was unveiled by President Higgins in May 2012.

At around 9pm on the night of January 30th 1990, a Mayday call was received by Valentia Coast Radio Station and by the Naval Vessel LE Deirdre as she lay at anchor in Lawrence' Cove, Bere Island.

A Spanish fishing vessel, Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza) with 16 souls onboard had gone aground on rocks near Roancarrigmore Light, north east of Bere Island in Bantry Bay during a severe gale and was sinking.

A Mayday call on Marine VHF radio is used when mariners require immediate assistance to prevent loss of life.

The Naval Vessel LE Deirdre weighed anchor immediately and headed into the severe gale towards the reported position of the vessel in distress. She also assumed the duties of 'On Scene Commander' for the rescue operation.

With no helicopter support available for a minimum of 2 hours and with the LE Deirdre unable to manoeuvre close enough to the Gardtoza, the decision was taken to launch the ships boarding boat, a Gemini craft with a powerful outboard engine.

Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, a native of Drogheda, along with Able Seaman Paul Kellett from Dublin volunteered to crew the Gemini. As the regular boarding crew for the Gemini, both men were very experienced in operating the boat.

Despite the severe weather, the crew of the Deirdre successfully launched the Gemini craft. Leading Seaman Quinn took charge as boat coxswain, and he and Able Seaman Kellett proceeded towards the Gardtoza. As they manoeuvred close to the fishing vessel, the appalling conditions in the vicinity of the Gardtoza made it apparent that a boarding, and therefore a rescue, by boat would not be possible.

Leading Seaman Quinn manoeuvred the Gemini to return to the LE Deirdre, just as a wind and wave combination capsized the Gemini throwing both crewmen into the sea.

AB Kellett was washed ashore on rocks near Dereen cove, where patrolling Gardaí picked him up.

An RAF Sea King Helicopter subsequently rescued the 16-man crew of the Gardtoza.

Despite an extensive search by the LE Deirdre assisted by an RAF Sea King helicopter, the merchant vessels Shell Technician, Shell Marketer and the fishing vessel Ben Chourn, there was no sign of Leading Seaman Quinn.

The following morning, an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, based in Shannon, joined the search.

At 8am on the 31st, it recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene. LS Quinn was only 27 at the time of his death and the survivor AB Kellet was 21.

In recognition of his unselfish bravery and devotion to duty, The Minister for Defence made a posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Medal to Michael Quinn.

The King of Spain also made a posthumous award of the Spanish Cross of Naval Merit in recognition of his brave attempts to rescue the Spanish crew.

Drogheda Independent