Hopes that bodies are on board sunken vessel

NAVAL divers will make efforts again today to search the 21-metre, steel-hulled trawler the Tit Bonhomme, which is lying in a gully near Adam’s Island at the entrance to Glandore Harbour, in the hope the bodies of its five missing crew will be found on board.

The vessel sank at about 6am on Sunday when weather conditions were said to be nasty, but not unusually so.

Coastguard co-ordinator Gerard O’Flynn said it was “pure speculation” as to whether or not the bodies would be on board.

Mr O’Flynn said it was hoped the weather would improve today and that the huge search operation would yield results for the distraught families waiting on the quay side at Union Hall for the fourth day.

The vessel was returning from a three-day fishing trip when tragedy struck.

It is thought that skipper Michael Hayes, 52, was in the wheelhouse with Egyptian crew member Saied Aly Eldin when the boat went on to rocks at Adam’s Island and a huge wave swept through the wheelhouse.

Searchers said debris was washing ashore as far as Leap and that as time went on it became more difficult to tell whether or not the bodies were still on board.

The LÉ Niamh remains moored near the mouth of the harbour to co-ordinate the surface sea search with the RNLI Lifeboats from Baltimore and Courtmacsherry as well as Irish Coast Guard helicopters from Shannon and Waterford.

Captain Paddy Harkin said it was hoped the wind would change direction as this would reduce the swell.

“We are hopeful that the weather will be more favourable,” he said. “Today went as planned with such extreme weather conditions. There was a strong south wind generating a swell and that is what hampered getting down to the vessel.”

Naval dive team leader Lieutenant Conor Kirwan said conditions in the immediate vicinity of the vessel remained particularly treacherous. He said only the naval and Garda dive teams should be used.

“We do not want to compound this tragedy with a further tragedy,” he said.

Mr Kirwan explained the practicalities of getting into the vessel once the weather does improve: “The general plan is to clear the areas one by one — the chart room, the wheel house, the galley and the accommodation area, and the upper section of the vessel.

“The first dive will be an assessment dive as we simply do not know what is down there and what debris is down there and what hazards might be there for the divers,” he said.

“First we will go into the wheel house to make sure there is no one in there and also to identify potential hazards to the divers and then we will work to systematically clear the vessel.”

Head of the Civil Defence search, Niall Twomey, said volunteers from all over Cork were assisting in the mammoth operation.

“We had 35 volunteers here today and are expecting more again tomorrow. They were involved in shoreline and boat searches but what they found was mainly debris. They were searching in areas in relation to current and winds that would be bringing debris in, and that was the search focus for the day.”

Local people pitched in to help as much as possible. Portable buildings were set up for shelter, and soup, sandwiches and stew were provided for everyone.

Local taxi driver Jean Hegarty set up a fund for the men and their families and spoke fondly of all the Egyptian men. She regularly brought them to work.

“I dropped the men down on Friday night and was the last person to see them alive. They were all lovely family men who were working here to send money home to their families. They missed their families so much.”

Ms Hegarty said she always joked with the men and told them if she won the Lotto she would pay for their families to come over to Ireland.

“The last thing Wael said to me when I dropped him off the other night was, ‘Don’t forgot to do the Lotto, Jean.’ These men have nothing and I just hope people will continue to support them.”

Ms Hegarty said a bank account had been set up at AIB in Skibbereen for anyone who wanted to contribute.

“They didn’t particularly enjoy the fishing life as they had to go out late at night in the freezing weather, but it was all to send money home to their family.”

Ms Hegarty said the men also contributed locally.

“They used my taxi regularly, and of course they would need to buy food and clothes, it wasn’t like they were living off the state.”

Later in the day, as the search was called off, Bishop John Buckley joined with the community in prayer.

He said: “All of Cork City is aware of the sad loss and we are all concerned and offer our support to everyone here. We are all aware of the great work being carried out by all of the emergency services whose lives are dedicated to helping others in the community.”

Egyptian prayers were also said and a cousin of one of the missing men spoke.

Moraid Gharib, who lives in Cork, paid tribute to the help they were getting from the Irish people.

“We just cannot believe what people are doing for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.

Father’s appeal

THE father of Kevin Kershaw, one of the five victims of the Glandore fishing tragedy, described yesterday how he had begged his son to “hold off” on emigrating to Australia in the hope a job opportunity would come up in Cork.

His unemployed son thought that very opportunity had arrived in the form of the Tit Bonhomme trawler.

Last week he had joined the crew to try his hand out at fishing.

If deemed good enough by the skipper, the 21-year-old planned to do the necessary training so he could become a fisherman.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, his father Patrick described Kevin, the eldest of six, as an “absolute diamond”.

“Everywhere he went, he had an impact. He was very involved in the community down there [Clonakilty]. He went out of the way to make people happy, he always had such a positive attitude,” he said. “Like most youths today he was trying to find something to keep him off benefits — he was very, very, excited about the opportunity to try out fishing and then do some training after that.”

Mr Kershaw said his family have found some consolation in the fact some locals, with experience of the sea, believe Kevin may have died in his sleep.

The boat’s survivor, Abdo Mohamad, told Patrick he believed Kevin was asleep in his bunk when the boat hit rocks.

“We believe they were asleep. With that kind of impact, they didn’t have a chance to wake up and would just have been obliterated. That’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, Marine Minister Simon Coveney, recalling the death of his father, Hugh, described the period when families were waiting to find bodies as a “torturous process”.

“It is a very difficult situation... They just really want to find the bodies so they can grieve properly. This was an accident that shouldn’t have happened. He [Michael Hayes] was coming in and out of Union Hall all the time and it’s a big boat, 65ft. Now we need to focus on the rescue effort rather than the causes,” he said.

Claire O’Sullivan

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