Sea tragedy may result in prosecution

GARDAÍ are expected to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions within months over the Fethard-on-Sea boating tragedy.

A decision to prosecute operators of the sea angling vessel will be determined by gardaí after the findings of a separate inquiry by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, a garda spokesperson said yesterday.

However, both investigations are not expected to be completed for several months.

Supt Tom Saunderson from New Ross, heading up the gardaí inquiry, is in constant contact with marine casualty investigators, said the spokesperson.

Five people including a 13-year-old boy, his father and grandfather lost their lives last month in the sinking of the Pisces off Bannow Point in Co Wexford.

A garda spokesperson said: “On the matter of any likely prosecution, gardaí will be guided by the findings issued by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.”

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is independent to the Department of Marine, confirmed the vessel is in the secure possession of marine surveyors for examination purposes.

“The board’s primary functions are to conduct an independent inquiry and investigate the circumstances which led to the tragedy,” a board member said. “The investigation will be completed without undue delay and it would be normal practice for the board to make recommendations to help avoid any recurrence. It is not the board’s function to prosecute,” the spokesman said.

In a continuing crackdown on breaches of sea safety, Marine Minister Dermot Ahern has initiated a review of safety on leisure and angling craft.

The minister warned yesterday a carrot and stick approach may be needed to change the mindset of many leisure craft operators and users.

“In some ways, it can be compared to road traffic legislation and the reluctance of people to use seatbelts and desist from drink driving,” he said. “We have to change a culture and if we don’t have regulations and strict enforcement on sea safety, we will not achieve compliance.”

Minister Ahern a keen sailor and wind surfer, said compared to other countries such as Portugal where a dedicated police water unit enforces legislation, Ireland has significant ground to make up on sea safety.

“My predecessors in this department brought in regulations which will be examined with a view to strengthening and enhancing their enforcement. It’s my desire that when any craft goes to sea, it would be equipped with safety devices,” Minister Ahern said.

With evidence pointing to many angling and leisure boats setting out to sea without adequate lifesaving equipment for everyone aboard, there was pressure for action, he said.

Coastguard helicopters in Shannon, Dublin and Waterford have launched more than 150 missions and rescued more than 100 people whose lives were at risk.

RNLI Ireland said its preliminary figures for 2002 showed a slight increase over 2001 when Irish lifeboats launched on average 75 times monthly and brought ashore upwards of 45 people monthly.

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