Crew’s bodies may be trapped on vessel

THE bodies of some of the five missing crewmen of the tragic Tit Bonhomme trawler may still be trapped on board.

Experts believe the 21-metre twin-rig trawler which fished out of Union Hall sank in seconds after it struck Adam’s Island at the mouth of Glandore harbour early yesterday.

Local fishermen believe some of the crew may have been asleep in their bunks as the vessel made its way home and would not have had enough time to get off before the vessel sank.

Expert divers with experience in night-time missions were set to dive in the area at low tide at 3.30am today, ahead of the resumption of a full-scale sea, air and shore search at first light.

Relatives of the crew will resume their vigil on the pier at Union Hall.

The Tit Bonhomme, originally a French boat now fishing out of Union Hall, set sail on Friday with skipper Michael Hayes at the helm. The 52-year-old father of four from Waterford was an experienced and well-respected fisherman.

He had four Egyptian crewmen on board — Mohammed Add Elgwad, his brother Weal, Said Ali Eldien and Zhaban Farrg. Mr Hayes had also agreed to let Kevin Kershaw, a 21-year-old student living in Clonakilty, tag along to pursue his dream of becoming a fisherman.

The vessel was making its way home through force 6 or 7 south-easterly winds yesterday — rough conditions, but not exceptional — when disaster struck.

It was in sight of safety just before 6am when Valentia Coastguard received a 999 call from on board indicating the vessel was sinking at the entrance to Glandore Harbour. The Shannon and Waterford coastguard helicopters were tasked within minutes, and Baltimore and Courtmacsherry lifeboats were also alerted.

The Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) in Dublin confirmed that the emergency signal from the stricken vessel was coming from an area near Adam’s Island — one of two rocky islands at the mouth of the harbour.

Coastguard site co-ordinator Gerard O’Flynn said Adam and Eve, the two rocky islands at the mouth of the harbour, are well known locally and would not have posed a difficulty for an experienced skipper such as Mr Hayes.

At around 7.30am, members of Toe Head coast guard spotted a large debris field around Adam’s Island, and were searching the area when they spotted survivor Mohammed Add Elgwad clinging to the island’s exposed western shore. They alerted Waterford rescue helicopter, which winched him on board around 8am and rushed him to CUH.

A major sea, air and shore search, involving the Baltimore and Courtmacsherry lifeboats, the Shannon and Waterford Coast Guard helicopters, and Coast Guard units from Toe Head, Glandore and Castlefreke, continued throughout the day for his five crewmates.

It were backed up by several local fishing boats and members of the West Cork civil defence.

Union Hall skipper Martin Deasy was one of several local skippers who helped. He knew the Tit Bonhomme’s skipper and described Mr Hayes as a skilled fisherman.

“He was a very experienced skipper — I know him very, very well. He’s a great fisherman,” he said.

“It was a very poor night — we honestly don’t know what happened. We just don’t know. The conditions out there are very difficult.”

Nearby Skibbereen is home to a small, close-knit Egyptian community. Mohammed, a friend of those missing, told how the tragedy was hitting them hard. “These are all young men, all friends of mine. “We are a small group so this is really hard for us. All of those on board had plenty of experience, some of them many years. It’s devastating.”

Two of the Egyptian fishermen are fathers, and all of them hail from Rozita, near Alexandria.

Search for five missing fishermen at Union Hall, Co Cork.

Time line

5.53am: Valentia Coastguard receive a garbled 999 call from a person on board the Tit Bonhomme indicating their vessel is sinking at entrance to Glandore Harbour.

5.54am: Shannon Coastguard helicopter tasked to scene. Waterford put on standby.

5.57am: Mayday relay broadcast.

6.02am: Baltimore lifeboat tasked to scene.

6.05am: Courtmacsherry lifeboat called out.

6.13am: Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) Dublin analyse details of an EPIRB (emergency signal) from the stricken vessel.

6.22am: The MRCC confirms that EPIRB’s co-ordinates are at the entrance to Glandore Harbour.

6.27am: A second mayday relay broadcast is made.

6.29am: Baltimore Lifeboat is on the water, giving an ETA at scene in 50 minutes.

7.03am: Shannon helicopter is airborne, ETA is 7.25am. The Waterford chopper gives an ETA of 7.47am.

7.25am: Toe Head coastguard boat launched.

7.31am: Baltimore lifeboat arrives on scene.

7.50am: Waterford helicopter arrives at the scene.

8.08am: Helicopter captain confirms one survivor is on board the aircraft.

8.09am: Ambulance control contacted and request is made for an ambulance to meet the helicopter at Cork Airport to transfer the survivor to Cork University Hospital.

9.15: Full-scale search underway involving lifeboats from Baltimore, Courtmacsherry, one helicopter and the Toe Head, Glandore and Castlefreke coastguard units. They are joined by several local fishing boats. Members of the West Cork civil defence conduct shore searches around the bay.

12pm: Baltimore lifeboat arrives in to Union Hall pier and lands wreckage from the Tit Bonhomme, including the shredded remains of two liferafts and several lifejackets.

2.30pm: LE Niamh deployed to the scene to assist in the search, as a naval service diving team engaged in a search for a missing person in the River Corrib in Galway are re-tasked to Glandore. Search continues until darkness falls.

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