Fishing crews should always ensure gangways between trawlers are properly fixed, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB)has recommended after investigating the death of a fisherman in Co Donegal.
John McCarthy, who was in his late 50s and from Castletownbere in West Cork, drowned after falling between trawlers as he returned to his fishing vessel, the MVF Menhaden in Killybegs Harbour in Co Donegal on March 14th 2019.
In its report on the tragedy, the MCIB noted at the time the MFV Menhaden was moored outside another boat, the MV Grip Transporter which in turn was moored outside another trawler, the MVF Olgarry.
According to MCIB report, which doesn’t name Mr McCarthy but refers to him as ‘the casualty’, CCTV footage shows him climbing the gangway from the quay on to starboard side of the MVF Olgarry at around 12.55am on March 14th.
The CCTV footage showed Mr McCarthy crossing to the port side of the MVF Olgarry behind the wheelhouse but he did not reappear on footage forward of the wheelhouse where the gangway to the MV Grip Transporter was rigged.
Mr McCarthy’s crewmates raised the alarm at around 10.30am that morning that he was missing and a search was launched and his body was recovered from the shore at the east side of Killybegs harbour at around 1.40pm.
According to the MCIB report, the evidence indicates that Mr McCarthy entered the water while travelling from the MFV Olgarry to the MV Grip Transporter at approximately 1am.
“Weather conditions were poor at the time with a lot of movement between the vessels,” said the MCIB, adding that there was no CCTV footage showing Mr McCarthy using the gangway rigged between the two boats.
The MCIB investigators established that Mr McCarthy had met up with a crew member of the MFV Menhaden’s sister ship, MFV Sea Spray in the Harbour Bar at 10.45pm and they later went to Hughie’s Bar and on to the Cope Bar.
In the Cope Bar, Mr McCarthy’s colleague asked for a room for the two of them and he escorted Mr McCarthy to the room at 12.30am before returning to the bar but when he went back to the room at 1.15am, Mr McCarthy was gone.
It was only when the crewman from the MFV Sea Spray returned to his trawler at 10.30am the next day and was asked about Mr McCarthy that people realized that Mr McCarthy was missing and a search was launched.
The MCIB report stated that while the cause of Mr McCarthy’s death was to be determined by an inquest at Coroner’s Court, a toxicology report indicated high levels of alcohol in Mr McCarthy’s system.
“The casualty most likely fell into the water when transiting between the MFV Olgarry and the MV Grip Transporter. Contributory factors included alcohol consumption, weather conditions and the lack of personal protective equipment.”
The MCIB recommended that the Minister for Transport issue a Marine Notice reminding fishing vessel crews of the dangers associated with boarding and transiting across vessels and that all gangways should be properly rigged.
The MCIB also recommended that the Minister for Transport issue a Marine Notice reminding fishing vessel crews of the dangers associated with boarding and transiting across vessels under the influence of alcohol.
A native of Bere Island, Mr McCarthy was the engineer on the MFV Menhaden and had been fishing with its skipper, Larry Murphy for almost 40 years, regularly making the trip north to fish for herring and mackerel off Donegal.