Fisherman missing for 24 years drowned, inquest rules

Fisherman missing for 24 years drowned, inquest rules
Frances Minihane, mother of Daniel Minihane, who went missing in Baltimore Bay in 1995. Picture: Denis Boyle

The family of a fisherman missing for 24 years after going fishing can finally apply for a death certificate as an inquest ruled that he died by drowning.

Daniel John Minihane was just 20 when, on January 26, 1995, he set off to bring in shrimp pots in Baltimore Bay in West Cork.

At a sitting of the coroner’s court in Bandon, coroner Frank O’Connell told the family he had opened the inquest into the case on July 31 last to hear preliminary evidence, having been approached by the family in 2015 to do so.

“I wrote to the minister for justice in view of the fact there is no body,” said Mr O’Connell. “He ordered me to hold a full inquiry.”

It emerged in the preliminary inquest that those who last saw Mr Minihane, of 26 Glencurragh, Skibbereen, alive were willing to give evidence.

The court heard that, at that time, just three boats fished regularly for shrimp out of Baltimore and that Mr Minihane’s was among them.

In court, fisherman Anthony O’Dwyer recalled the Sunday morning more than 24 years ago, saying: “I remember the day alright.”

Mr O’Dwyer was going out that Sunday morning to haul shrimp pots with his deckhand at around 9am.

“Daniel was going out the same time as ourselves,” said Mr O’Dwyer .

He told the court there was a westerly wind and that, out at sea, his vessel stopped in its location because of the swell, while “Daniel kept going out east”.

“Next thing, we see this thing sticking out of the water,” said Mr O’Dwyer.

It was Mr Minihane’s boat, the Moonshiner, bow up in the water. The inquest heard that this was probably due to the airtight cabin at that end of the boat.

Mr O’Dwyer remembered the shrimp pots hanging off the boat, adding that there was “a lot of weight hanging off the boat”.

A rope was used to secure the boat and the Valentia Coast Guard was called. Help arrived but when efforts were made to lift the boat out of the water, the rope on it “burst”, said Mr O’Dwyer, and the 17ft fibreglass boat went down. 

As for what happened to flip the boat over, Mr O’Dwyer said: “It must have happened fast.”

Mr O’Connell said:

The body was lost 24 years ago. I think we can conclude, and I am going to conclude, that he drowned and it was an accident. I think there is more than ample evidence to that end.

He told Mr Minihane’s family, including his mother, Frances, that they will be able to apply for a death certificate from next week.

“I hope that this helps to bring a bit of closure,” said the coroner.

He ruled it was an accidental death in Baltimore Bay by drowning when the boat became submerged by waves.

Afterwards, the family said the inquest does provide a sense of closure and that they had been seeking an official death certificate for some time.

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