Safety at sea

The sun-filled setting of Union Hall earlier this week, with dinghies tacking in light winds across from Glandore harbour, could not have offered a greater contrast to the distressing atmosphere in the west Cork port 18 months ago. It was at the mouth of Glandore in January 2012 that the Tit Bonhomme fishing vessel hit rocks and sank, with the loss of five of the six crew on board. Last Monday, Minister for Marine Simon Coveney returned to the port with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, to announce a series of measures aimed at improving the safety of those who face daily hazards when setting out to catch fish in these waters.

The Government will grant-aid the purchase of key equipment. This includes "float-free" emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), which emit a distress signal transmitted by satellite on contact with water, and personal locator beacons (PLBs) which serve the same function and fit into lifejackets. Much of this equipment is to be made mandatory for smaller fishing vessels in time, and a high level working group is to be established to improve safety. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), which will administer the equipment scheme, is also running a new safety training course which skippers and crew should take every five years.

Both ministers appealed for a culture change towards activities on water, given thatfifty-five people have lost their lives at sea in the last five years - with 15 of those in the past twelve months. Mr Varadkar spoke of “zero tolerance” for non-compliance with safety rules, but Mr Coveney noted that Iceland, with fewer such rules,also had fewer deaths at sea. The Marine Minister acknowledged that the issue must be painful for those who had lost loved ones, but he hoped they could gain some comfort from the knowledge that “something concrete is now being done”.

Caitlin Uí Aodha, widow of the Tit Bonhomme skipper, Michael Hayes, has welcomed the scheme,but has raised concerns about one issue - the handling of two "999" calls made from her husband's vessel. The Department of Communications is currently carrying out a review, and it is hoped that the findings of this will be made public very soon.