Posted 15 January 2012 - 08:41 PM
Hopes fade for missing fishermen
Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 07:06 PM
Hopes were fading tonight for the safe return of five men missing after a trawler sank off the west Cork coast.
A 21-year-old student from Clonakilty, Co Cork, who was interested in taking up a career at sea, is thought to have been onboard when the vessel went down close to Union Hall harbour.
Skipper Michael Hayes, a married father from Ring, Co Waterford, who had been living in Union Hall for years, and four Egyptian men, aged in their 20s, were also on the 21-metre Tit Bonhomme.
One of the Egyptian fishermen was rescued and is said to be in a comfortable condition at Cork University Hospital.
Distraught relatives of the missing men gathered on the wind-swept pier throughout the day waiting for news on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
It is believed the Irish-registered vessel struck rocks, known locally as Adam and Eve Island, just moments away from the pier in the early hours of this morning.
Crew made a distress call to the Coast Guard at around 6am, but it was cut off and all radio contact was lost.
A massive search by Coast Guard helicopters from Shannon and Waterford, and lifeboats from Courtmacsherry and Baltimore was stood down this evening until first light tomorrow morning.
The Naval Service vessel LE Niamh and up to 15 local trawlers had also joined the operation.
Strong winds and heavy seas hampered the search and rescue mission throughout the day.
Vincent O’Donovan, of Courtmacsherry Lifeboat station, said the Tit Bonhomme had taken some battering in the rough waters.
“Conditions had been bad all last night and this morning,” he said. “It was force 7 to 8, and it was a south east wind, which causes difficulties off that coast.
“It was very bleak with a very heavy swell.”
The lifeboat launched shortly after 6am and spotted debris in the water close to the mouth of Union Hall harbour, believed to be wreckage from the trawler, around an hour and a half later.
But despite efforts throughout the day, no other survivors were found.
Navy and Garda divers are to examine the wreckage, which is grounded on the seabed and partially visible at low tide, tomorrow as a full air, land and sea search is resumed.
Declan Geoghegan, Coast Guard operations manager, said: “I’d be very surprised if we are looking for survivors at this stage.”
Mr Geoghegan said it was possible bodies could be still onboard the Tit Bonhomme, if it went down quickly and they became trapped.
“It’s not that easy an area to search,” he added.
A tattered life raft was among debris pulled out of the sea during hauls by locally-based trawlers.
The Tit Bonhomme was formerly a French-registered trawler, which was co-owned by Mr Hayes until recently, when he took sole control.
It is believed the crew left shore on Friday but were not expected back before Sunday. Garda interviews with the survivor are expected to throw light on what exactly happened.
Local parish priest Fr Michael Curran said the close-knit community was devastated.
“The tragedy that has hit this community is awful for everyone,” he said.
“Something like this affects everybody deeply.
“A lot of people here are involved in fishing, it’s a big thing in Union Hall.”
Just last month, three fishermen were rescued from a life raft after their trawler sank at the same spot.
The Jeanette Roberta was sailing out from Union Hall pier when it went down close to Adam, the larger of the two rocks at the narrow entrance to the harbour.
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