Mussel fisherman had no lifejacket on when ship sank

A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board report has revealed that a fisherman who drowned after his boat capsized was not wearing a lifejacket — despite the presence of safety equipment on board.

Crewman John Ennis and skipper Richard McNamara had gone fishing for mussels on the Na Buachaillí on Feb 18, 2011.

They set out for the mussel beds at Duncannon in Wexford at 7.15am. Fishing progressed well and 58 of the 80 bags of mussels had been harvested and stored on deck on the port and starboard sides, allowing for a central walkway.

At about 11.30am, Mr McNamara noticed a merchant ship and the Waterford pilot boat coming down river. The dredge was due to be hoisted and he brought the vessel to port and stopped.

The dredge was hoisted using the winch and Mr Ennis was in the process of attaching the line to the bottom of the dredge but was struggling to do so. Mr McNamara left the winch control to help Mr Ennis.

They got it attached and Mr McNamara was making his way forward to operate the winch controls when he noticed that the vessel was listing to starboard.

Mr McNamara saw Mr Ennis bracing himself against the list of the vessel, holding on to the gantry. He also saw that the suspended dredge was swinging out to starboard.

Mr McNamara tried in vain to get to the winch controls to drop the dredge but the vessel continued its rapid list to starboard, was inundated, and sank.

He tried to enter the wheelhouse to activate the emergency position indicating radio beacon but the rapid rush of water into the vessel forced him into the wheelhouse and into the area forward of the engine under the forward deck, trapping him there.

MCIB said “a quirk of fate” then reversed the flow of water and Mr McNamara was ejected out through the wheelhouse doorway. He got to a life ring and made it ashore.

Despite extensive searches, Mr Ennis’ body was not found until Mar 21, 2011.

MCIB concluded that the vessel had the requisite safety equipment but both men were not wearing lifejackets. It said a number of factors could have forced the vessel to the starboard, including the position of the boat, the distribution of fish on the deck, the flow of fuel between two interconnected fuel tanks, and the flow of water from a pump on the mussel wash/sorter.


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