Survivor slept for between 6 and 8 hours on trawler

The sole survivor of the Tit Bonhomme said he had slept for up to eight hours on the trawler’s fishing expedition in January last year, in a fresh statement that challenges the findings of the only official report conducted into the tragedy.

The boat’s skipper, Michael Hayes, 51, from Helvick in Co Waterford, Kevin Kershaw, 21, from Clonakilty, West Cork, and Egyptians Attaia Shaban, 26, Saied Ali Eldin, 22, and Wael Mohamed, 35, died when the vessel sank in Glandore Harbour after colliding with rocks on Adam Island on Jan 15 last year.

Wael Mohamed’s brother, Abdelbaky Mohamed, 44, was the sole survivor and yesterday, he gave new evidence stating that during the course of the fishing expedition — which left Union Hall on Jan 13 and sank early the following Sunday morning — he had up to eight hours’ sleep in addition to other periods of rest. This challenges the findings of a Marine Casualty Investigation Board report that claimed crew fatigue was a central factor in the boat’s sinking.

Mr Mohamed, speaking mostly through a translator, was on the stand for two hours yesterday and returned after lunch when the coroner said he had been made aware of the new statement.

Mr Mohamed said when the vessel hit the island, he was asleep on the top bunk on the port side, with Wael asleep on the top bunk on the starboard side, and Attaia on the bottom bunk. Kevin Kershaw was asleep on the bunk bed in the back of the lower deck.

“When there was fish we worked,” he said. “When there was not we had time to rest. For the duration of the trip I would estimate that I had between six and eight hours’ sleep. However, I also had other breaks when I could make a cup of tea or have a cigarette.”

During questioning on his initial statement, Mr Mohamed said the impact of the boat against the island was like a car when the brakes were hit suddenly.

He said he did not see Mr Hayes, who he described as a friend, or Saied, below deck, when he awoke.

He was the last person to make it up to the bridge following the impact and said he could not answer as to who might have been in control of the trawler when it hit the rocks. He said the boat was not understaffed and its haul of 42 boxes of fish was about one-tenth of its optimum capacity.

The first man on the scene of the tragedy, Aodh O’Donnell, who runs West Cork Boat Services, said he followed the debris trail in towards the harbour, having spotted a man overboard beacon. He helped direct emergency services when they arrived at the scene.

The inquest also heard from Baltimore volunteer diver John Kearney, who found two of the bodies, Garda Pauline Reid, who identified two bodies, and fisherman Niall Deasy who discovered Mr Hayes’s body on Feb 8, 2012.

Lee Miles of Toe Head Coast Guard said he found Mr Mohamed and told him: “I am with you now, you are safe. I will look after you.” He also gathered up three life jackets he found as Mr Mohamed was winched to safety.

Barrister Elizabeth O’Connell for the Hayes family, thanked him and others involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.

Earlier, in the course of questioning Mr Mohamed, she queried whether the onboard VHF radio was broken, without batteries, or in an area with a bad signal, meaning it could not be used despite Mr Hayes’s attempts to do so.

Dr Declan Gilsenan told the inquest he performed the autopsy on the body of Saied Ali Eldin.

He said he did not know if it would bring any comfort to his family, but in finding Mr Eldin had died of hypothermia, he said: “You feel the cold for maybe five or 10 minutes and after that you fall into... a relatively pleasant kind of dreamy sleep.”

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