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Fateful trawler with five crew was too heavy, finds investigation

A TRAWLER that sank with the loss of five crew members almost two years ago had a heavier load than ever before at the time of the tragedy, according to an investigation.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has found that on the evening the Pere Charles sank, its herring load resulted in it being deeper in the water than before, increasing the likelihood of water entering the shelter deck.

An accumulation of water would have caused the vessel to become unstable, the report concludes, leading the eventual "heeling and sinking" of the Pere Charles.

The 17.5-metre herring boat sank close to Hook Head on the evening of January 10, 2007, on its way back from a fishing trip off the south-east coast.

Despite an intensive coast and sea search which lasted for weeks, a navy dive and the subsequent lifting of the Pere Charles from the sea bed, the bodies of skipper Tom Hennessy, 30, and crewmen Andrei Dyrin, 32, Pat Coady, 27, Billy O’Connor, 52, and Pat Hennessy, 48, were never found.

The five men had accumulated over 70 years of experience at sea between them before the night of the tragedy but the MCIB found that none had formal deck officer qualifications, as required by the Government’s manning regulations.

The Pere Charles departed from Dunmore East at about 10am on January 10 of last year and carried out trawling with another trawler, the Suzanna G. Three catches of herring were taken, with the first two landed on the Pere Charles and the last landed on the Suzanna G.

As both vessels were making their way back to port, the Suzanna G received a call on the VHF radio from Pere Charles skipper Tom Hennessy to say: "She had breached on me. Stand by."

After the skipper of the Suzanna G replied "Yes, ok", there was no further contact from the Pere Charles and it disappeared from view.

It was eventually located on the seabed two days later and Irish Naval Service divers carried out searches on January 16 and between January 24 and 27, but no bodies were found.

The wreck of the Pere Charles was salvaged last November and brought by barge to Arklow but it had been extensively damaged and a search did not yield the bodies of any of the crew.

According to the MCIB report, there were no records to show that Tom Hennessy had any deck officer fishing certificate of competency or certificate of service. However, he was known as "a careful and conscientious fisherman" and had satisfactorily completed first aid, fire prevention, health and safety, and survival training with Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

The investigation team spoke to previous crew members of the Pere Charles, who told them that the vessel was known as a "wet boat" — with the crew sometimes working on deck "up to their knees in water".

On its last trip, the trawler had a greater load (50 tonnes) than on any previous trip, according to the MCIB. The previous highest catch was when it landed 34 tonnes of herring on December 11 of 2006.

The report suggests the most likely cause of the sinking was of water entering the deck shelter, which had "only two very limited means" of clearing the water. Flooding, heeling and sinking would then have followed, the report states.