The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is investigating an incident in which an undocumented Filipino fisherman lost most of a finger and broke another at sea.
Alvin Silangan (39), from Cebu in central Philippines, says he was working without a permit for over a year on Irish trawlers, despite repeated requests to his employers to get him one.
He hopes to remain in Ireland with the assistance of the Garda National Immigration Bureau, to pursue a claim against his former employer. However, he fears he will not be able to resume fishing work again due to his injuries.
Michael Kirwan snr, based in Clogherhead, Co Louth, is the owner of the Rose of Sharon trawler on which Mr Silangan was working when he was injured.
On the morning of December 15th, while prawn fishing in the Smalls – a fishing ground 32 miles off Wales – a heavy metal door at the stern slammed on Mr Silangan's right hand, severing the index finger and breaking another.
He was airlifted to Waterford and then transferred to the Mater hospital in Dublin. The finger could not be reattached.
Diane Madronero, a nurse also from the Philippines, was working in the Mater emergency department when Mr Silangan arrived.
“I took pity on him because he was dressed very poorly. His clothes were very dirty. He had no shoes. He was very worried about the bills for the hospital and medicine and I promised I would do all I could to help him.”
Ms Madronero has been paying for his medication since. Mr Silangan was discharged from hospital on December 18th and has since been staying with a friend. Ms Madronero has visited Mr Silangan with her husband Aidan O’Reilly each day since.
“He will not go outdoors. He doesn’t want to see the boat owner ever again,” she said.
Having been recruited through Manila-based agency Super Manning, Mr Silangan worked on a Northern Ireland-registered trawler for a year, until mid-2016 with a permit.
Mr Silangan said the permit lapsed and he was offered work on a trawler registered in the Republic. Despite promises his documentation would be sorted, he remained undocumented. He moved to work on the Rose of Sharon in January but has not had a permit since.
When met by The Irish Times before Christmas, Mr Silangan said there had been no contact from Mr Kirwan and that he had no money.
One of his fellow fishermen on the Rose of Sharon, he said, had been in touch saying Mr Kirwan offered him a flight home. “But what about what happened to my hand? I do not know what I will do. I think I cannot work in my profession again. I have two daughters in Cebu, age eight and three.”
A HSA spokesman said it was aware of the incident. “We will be making contact with the skipper of the vessel and will follow up as appropriate.”
Worked ‘on and off’
Mr Kirwan told The Irish Times before Christmas that Mr Silangan had been the only worker on his trawler without a permit, and that he gave him work “on and off” to help him.
“I want to apply for a permit for him but as far as I understand he has to go home and then we can bring him back in when the permit comes through.”
A work permit can be applied for by a prospective employer while the worker is in the country.
He agreed he had not been in direct contact with Mr Silangan but said he had lodged €1,500 in a friend’s account for him. He said he wanted to meet Mr Silangan to discuss his future options.
“The work is hard. It’s not easy, but my workers typically earn about €40,000 a year. I have the height of respect for them and they have for me,” he said.
Mr Silangan did not attend a planned meeting with Mr Kirwan in Howth on December 23rd but was represented by trade unionist and advocate for undocumented fisherman Ken Fleming of the International Transport Federation.
Also present was journalist and trade union activist Pádraig Yeates and Mr O’Reilly. Mr Kirwan, when contacted by The Irish Times on Thursday, said he could not talk about the meeting.
The incident comes a month after an Oireachtas report highlighted the vulnerability of non-EEA workers in the fishing industry to exploitation, particularly those without work-permits. Mr Fleming said exploitation of non-EEA fishers was "rife".