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Report: Fatigue biggest factor in Tit Bonhomme tragedy

An investigation showed that crew only appear to have had about 4 – 5 hours of sleep during a 40 hour period.

AN INVESTIGATION INTO the sinking of the Tit Bonhomme in West Cork last year has found that the biggest factor in the tragedy was fatigue.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board’s investigation also found that the crew were not familiar with operating safety and communications equipment.

Tragedy

The Tit Bonhomme sank near Glandore Harbour in West Cork on 15 January 2012, leading to the deaths of five of the six crew members. The fishing vessel left Union Hall in Glandore on Friday 13 January on a fishing trip, but experienced some technical difficulties and its skipper, Michael Hayes, decided to return to port.

The wreckage of the Tit Bonhomme off Adam Island in west Cork in January 2012. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire

However, during the return journey it stranded at 5.35am on an area called Adam’s Island at the entrance to Glandore Harbour, leading to the vessel breaking up.

The sole survivor was Egyptian national Abdelbaky Abdelgawad Mohamed.

The emergency response and recovery operation lasted for 26 days and involved a large number of organisations and civilians.

The vessel was manned by skipper Michael Hayes; his four Egyptian crew, Abdelbaky Abdelgawad Mohamed, Wael Abdelgawad Mohamed, Said Mohamed Mohamed Ibrahim Alieldeen, and Attiy Ahmed Shaban; and a student visitor, Kevin Kershaw.

Weather deterioration

Abdelbaky Abdelgawad Mohamed gave his events of what occurred on board the Tit Bonhomme to the investigation team.

On 14 January, the weather began to deteriorate at about 7pm, when Hayes was in the wheelhouse and Abdelbaky Mohamed and his brother Wael Mohamed were in the fish hold.

They began experiencing problems with the level of bilge water, and changed to the auxiliary bilge pump. They hauled again and then towed until about 11pm and hauled. They rested from 9.30pm to 11pm, and at 11.23pm the vessel stopped for repairs to be made to the main bilge pump, which was carried out by the skipper.

Gus Dempsey (left) and George Webb light candles at a memorial as darkness falls on the pier at Union Hall, Cork, during the Tit Bonhomme search. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire

He noticed an oil leak but was unable to locate a replacement part on the vessel, so at just after 2am he decided to abandon the trip as the fishing had been poor. The oil leak was kept under observation.

The report states it has not been possible to establish who was on watch at the time of the stranding. Abdelbaky Mohamed was asleep but awoken by a sudden bang and found the vessel rolling violently. The crew members began to evacuate and the skipper was wearing his personal flotation device and giving the crew life jackets.

Kevin Kershaw, the youngest member, made a 999 call at 5.49am. Abdelbaky Mohamed was swept out of the boat but being a strong swimmer was able to swim away and was located just over two hours later.

Records indicate that the vessel was operating on auto-pilot up to the point of stranding. The vessel was not fitted with a Bridge Navigational Watch and Alarm System, BNWAS, or an Off-Course Alarm.

The fact that the skipper Hayes was the sole certified ’2nd Hand Special level’ deck officer on board was seen as a ‘key issue’. The report also states that it is difficult to ascertain what the crew rest period arrangements were during the 39 hours, with Abdelbaky Mohamed saying he had three hours’ sleep in the previous 36 hours.

This could be partially explained by the problems with the bilge pump, said the report.

There was a power blackout and electricity wasn’t restored during the stranding. The report states it is believed radio battery power also went, which would explain why no apparent attempt was made to communicate a distress alert using the system for this. The crew did not use the hand-held VHF radios to make a distress call.

When the bodies were recovered, only the skipper was wearing any form of buoyancy – this may reflect the short reaction time or lack of training in drills, said the report.

Though there were six people on board, the vessel was only permitted to carry five and had lifesaving equipment for only five people.

A memorial on the pier at Union Hall, Cork. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Conclusion

The report concludes that:

the single overriding causal factor is considered to be insufficient rest for the crew and that the regulations on hours of work and rest appear not to have been complied with. In the 40 hours between departing Union Hall and the grounding, all crew appear to have had at most four to five hours sleep. This resulted in fatigue and inadequate watchkeeping arrangements on board the vessel and it steamed into and stranded on Adam’s  Island during the hours of darkness in poor weather conditions

It also states that the tragedy “highlights the importance of alerting the Irish Coast Guard as soon as possible when an event occurs which could endanger the vessel”. It said that the coast guard should have been informed when the Tit Bonhomme began experiencing oil problems.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport said it has accepted. All five recommendations have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.

Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar said:

I want to extend my sympathies to families and friends of the deceased. We owe it to them and everyone using the sea to embrace a culture of safety at sea and ensure that similar incidents do not re-occur in the future. I also want to thank the MCIB for its thorough investigation.

Read: President to pay tribute to lost fishermen>

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