Higgins pays tribute to fishermen


President Michael D. Higgins paid tribute today to five seamen who lost their lives following the sinking of the Tit Bonhomme trawler.

Search teams and the close-knit fishing community of Union Hall in west Cork, where the fishing vessel sank in stormy seas, were also praised during an ecumenical service.

The President said it was a time to honour the memory of the five lives that were lost at sea - the Tit Bonhomme’s skipper, Michael Hayes and his crew Wael Mohamed, Attaia Shaban, Saied Ali Eldin, and Kevin Kershaw.

“On behalf of the people of Ireland, I wish to express my sincere sympathies to all who lost loved ones on 15th January this year, to the sole survivor of this tragedy, Wael’s brother, Abdul Mohammed, and to the partners, wives, parents, children and friends of these five men who have been lost to the force of the sea,” said Mr Higgins.

“Coping with and learning to live with loss is the great challenge you face but you can take heart from the fact that you have such strong communities around you at this difficult time.

“As fishing people you know too the perils of life at sea.

“You understand the cruelty in how the sea gives and takes away life; its beauty and attraction, its power and devastation.”

The Tit Bonhomme sank after hitting Adam’s Island at the entrance to Glandore Bay in stormy seas on the way back to shore after a three-day prawn fishing trip. There was one survivor.

The bodies of three other crew members - Kevin Kershaw (21) originally from Dublin but who had been living in Clonakilty and was on his first deep sea fishing trip, and Egyptians Attaia Shaban (26) and Wael Mohammed (35)  -  were recovered in the following days.

The remains of skipper Michael Hayes, brother of Bandon-based Superintendent Tom Hayes, was discovered on February 8.

But the west Cork and Egyptian communities held a vigil on the pier until the final body - Egyptian deckhand Saied Ali Eldin (23) - was found by search teams two days later.

Mr Higgins said over that month the country became enveloped in the story of the Tit Bonhomme, its crew and the people of this area.

“Grief and sadness were emotions felt in sitting rooms across the country,” he continued.

“But there was also sense of pride at seeing what is the very best of ourselves as a nation - community, neighbourliness, co-operation, and support in times of difficulty - an Irishness of which we can all be proud.

“Over the four week long search the Irish people got to know this community, a very special and strong community, an example of community working together.

“Rather than allowing yourselves to be defeated by loss and tragedy, you showed strength of spirit and the power of the collective.

“Everyone in this community and people from right across West Cork and beyond became involved in what would be an enormous and heroic search effort.”

As President of Ireland, Mr Higgins said he wanted to express his gratitude to the men and women of the Naval Service, the Coast Guard, An Garda Siochana, the teams of volunteer divers and hundreds of volunteers who helped and assisted in the recovery operation.

“Of course, at times of loss, people, families and communities come together but your spirit of co-operation was outstanding reflecting the best of community values,” he added.