Search teams pray weather changes

PRAYERS will be said this morning that the weather will change sufficiently to allow divers to search the wreck of the Tit Bonhomme, which may conceal the bodies of five fishermen feared drowned after it struck rocks and sank at the entrance to a bay in Co Cork.

Navy and Garda divers were unable to search the wreck yesterday due to adverse south-easterly winds that prevented them getting inside the trawler, which sunk at the entrance to Glandore Bay at about 6am on Sunday.

The vessel, skippered by Michael Hayes — a brother of Chief Superintendent Tom Hayes, the senior garda in West Cork — went down after hitting the notorious rocks at Adam’s Island.

The top of the trawler’s gantry was spotted by search teams and it is believed it is lying underneath the rocks on the island.

Depending on the tide, the vessel is down in eight to 15 metres of water.

Experts say the depth is not the problem, but that winds are causing swells in the sea which are making it impossible for the divers to enter it without risk of injury or death. If the swell were to cause the vessel to suddenly move, it could crush divers between the superstructure and the underwater rocks.

The trawler is supposedly “stuck fast’’ underneath the rocks, about 2km from the inner harbour.

The two Irishmen on board and their four Egyptian crewmates had gone out to sea on Thursday and were returning home when the incident occurred.

As the diving teams could not get inside the wreck they concentrated yesterday on retrieving items from “debris hotspots” around the bay.

Navy and Garda divers have studied the construction plans of the 21-metre, French-built trawler so they can access it when the weather turns more favourable.

However, they will have to first dive to assess what damage may been done to the structure of the vessel before entering it.

Parts of it may have been battered by hitting the rocks, which would make diving within the wheelhouse and into the cabins more hazardous.

“They will have to evaluate the condition of the vessel before sending diving teams within,’’ a source said.

“Some debris has been brought ashore but it is currently not enough to ascertain how badly damaged the vessel might be.’’

Searches were undertaken yesterday along 14km of shoreline between Union Hall and Glandore by Civil Defence for the bodies of the missing men.

Gerard O’Flynn, who is in charge of coastguard training, said that volunteers from units at the Seven Heads, Castlefreke, Glandore and Toe Head had been involved in searches, which were aided by coastguard helicopters from Shannon and Waterford.

The LE Niamh, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Paddy Harkin, was also at the scene and was co-ordinating the search with the Valentia Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Navy sources said that if the wind shifted to west/south-west it would make diving on the vessel easier.

A temporary exclusion zone was legally established on the vessel yesterday under the Maritime Safety Act 2005, which makes it illegal for anybody other than those ordered by the coastguard to go near it.

Garda search teams were helping to sweep the area and Civil Defence officer Niall Twomey said he had a further 30 volunteers helping with searches both on water and onshore.

He said the searches along the coastline were particularly difficult as the terrain featured sometimes steep cliffs, rocky coves and woodland, much of which were slippery underfoot.

Meanwhile, locally-based fishing vessels the Ocean Pioneer II and Brian Eoin attached trawl nets to each other and took sweeps around the bay between Glandore and Union Hall in an effort to pick up further debris and bodies.

They failed to locate the bodies of the missing men and the search was officially called off last night.

A control centre has been set up at the main pier in Union Hall, where the gardaí, navy and civil defence have a major presence.

Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan also offered support as he visited the scene yesterday.

Several other gardaí also offered their support to Chief Supt Tom Hayes. They included Chief Supt Michael Finn and Superintendents Tom Myers, Mick Comyns, and Ger Dillane.

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