Weather hampers Cork search


Civil Defence and Irish Coastguard rescue teams are searching the shoreline around Union Hall for five men missing since the Tit Bonhomme sank yesterday.

The search area has been extended – to reflect the strength of the strong force 7-8 southeasterly winds - and the Coastguard helicopter was this morning searching an area close to Rosscarbery.

A combination of a heavy swell and the possibility of waiting for low tide means that the Naval Service and Garda dive teams are not expected to try and reach the wreck until this afternoon.

The navy said the weather conditions and resultant sea swell continued to hamper the use of the specialist naval diving team which has been on scene since yesterday afternoon.

One member of the boat's crew managed to make it ashore and was rescued yesterday morning but the search operation has to date failed to find any trace of the missing men.

Search co-ordinators are assessing conditions at the scene before deciding if divers can access the sinking site.

Waters in the harbour are calm compared to yesterday, but conditions at the wreck site at the mouth of the harbour are much more difficult, with heavy swells. Garda divers have entered the water elsewhere but have not been able to access the Tit Bonhomme.

There were emotional scenes in Union Hall when the man who made shore, Abdul Mohammed, met families of the other missing fishermen and members of the local Egyptian community. People have gathered at the quayside, and prayers have been said for the missing men.

A number of trawlers, including the Ocean Pioneer and Brian Eoin, carried a mid-water trawl of the harbour as the search operation continued.

The Tit Bonhomme, which was skippered by Michael Hayes from Helvic Head in Co Waterford, was returning to its home port of Union Hall at around 6am in strong force 7-8 southeasterly winds when it ran aground near Adam’s rock.

Mr Hayes, who is in his early 50s, and the other crew members, Egyptians Abdul Mohammed (43), Said Mohammed (23), Wael Mohammed (35) and Attea Ahmed Shaban (26) had been joined on the trip by a young man, Kevin Kershaw (21).

Mr Kershaw, who is from Dublin but had been living with relatives in Clonakilty, had expressed an interest in pursuing a career as a fisherman and was on his first fishing trip on board the Tit Bonhomme to see if he liked the seafaring life.

It is believed Said Mohamed and Mr Hayes were in the wheelhouse of the 21-metre steel-hulled trawler when she hit Adam’s Island at the mouth of Glandore Harbour at around 6am and that Abdul Mohammed came up as the wheelhouse was hit.

Rescuers believe Abdul Mohammed was sucked out through the window of the wooden wheelhouse, which was badly damaged in the incident, but he managed to make it ashore to a headland to the west of the harbour.

A father of three, Mr Mohammed was found by Toe Head Inshore Lifeboat at around 8am and was airlifted by an Irish Coastguard helicopter to Cork University Hospital, where it is understood his condition is stable.

Searchers believe the remaining three crew were asleep in their bunks when the boat hit the rocks. Divers hope to get down to search the sleeping quarters and surrounding area today in the hope of recovering all five men.

A joint team of Naval Service and Garda divers had hoped to get down to the vessel at low tide yesterday but after assessing the conditions including a combination of big swells and fading light, they decided to defer the dive until today.

A father of five originally from Bonmahon in Co Waterford, Mr Hayes lived at Helvic Head but had fished out of Union Hall for the past seven or eight years and was an experienced skipper and well regarded within the fishing community.

Mr Hayes is married to Caitlin Ní Aodha, a spokeswoman for the Irish Fishermen’s Organisation, and Ms Ní Aodha was joined by other family members on the pier at Union Hall yesterday as they anxiously waited for news of the search operation.

Helping to co-ordinate the operation is Mr Hayes’s brother Chief Supt Tom Hayes of Bandon Garda station. Gardaí have joined with the Irish Coastguard, the RNLI, the Civil Defence, the Naval Service and local fishermen in the search.

One of the Egyptians, Mr Shaban, had arrived in Ireland last year as an asylum seeker, but it is understood that the other Egyptians, who are all from Rosetta near Alexandria, had been fishing in Ireland for the past six years or so.

The Naval Service Vessel LE Niamh remains on station off the Cork coast and continues to act as the on scene coordinating vessel for the ongoing search operation, the service said.

In a statement, the service said it was "deeply conscious of the families and friends of the missing men and the wider fishing community" and would commence diving operations on the Tit Bonhomme as soon as safe diving conditions prevail in the immediate vicinity.

"Whilst conditions in most of the bay are safe for diving, the area where the vessel is located remains treacherous."

The specialist naval diving team are concentrating their efforts on pockets of debris in the bay where conditions are suitable for diving and have completed operations in those areas.

" The decision to commence an underwater search of the Tit Bonhomme and the immediate vicinity remains under constant review between myself, the Naval Dive Team Leader and the Coastguard." said Lieutenant Commander Paddy Harkin, Commander of the LE Niamh this afternoon.