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James Tate's 16-foot fibreglass punt
James Tate's 16-foot fibreglass punt
Image: Marine Casualty Investigation Board

Report into fishing tragedy finds fault with condition of vessel, planning of trip

One man died in the accident, in Tramore Bay in January of this year. He was fishing with a friend when their boat capsized, just 50 metres from shore.
Jul 16th 2013, 6:30 AM 6,707 0

AN OFFICIAL REPORT into a fatal fishing accident off the Waterford coast in which one man died concludes that his chances of survival would have been far greater had he and his fellow fisherman struck out to swim for shore sooner.

The report, by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, also finds that a lack of buoyancy meant the small boat they were using was sitting very low in the water when two waves broke over its side, causing it to fill with water and then flip over.

The accident happened early in the morning of 10 January last. 43-year-old Johnny Flynn – an ex-RNLI volunteer – was out fishing with his lifelong friend James Tate in the Rinnashark Harbour area of Tramore Bay.

The two men were returning from their trip in Tate’s 16 foot fibreglass punt when a wave broke over the side and flooded the craft with water, the report states.

A second wave capsized the swamped vessel, throwing the two men out. While Tate managed to stay in contact with the upturned hull, Flynn did not, and was drawn away from the boat by a current. According to the report:

The two men struggled for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, keeping in contact by calling to each other, before deciding to swim for the shore which was approximately 50m away.

By this time, both men were exhausted, however, Mr Tate managed to reach the shore and raise the alarm. Mr Flynn did not make
it ashore and he was taken from the water some time later by the Coast Guard helicopter R117 and flown to Waterford Airport where he was pronounced dead.

The report makes a number of conclusions in relation to the condition of the boat, the planning of the trip, and the way the two men handled their predicament. It says the vessel must have been sitting very low in the water for it to be swamped and capsized so easily:

This conclusion is supported by the general condition of the vessel when inspected following the incident which showed it to be quite waterlogged in places and probably much heavier than as originally built. The aft buoyancy chamber had also been cut open providing storage for the fuel tank, further reducing the inherent buoyancy of the boat.

The report concludes that, although the standard advice in such situations is to remain with an upturned vessel, the two men could have taken the decision to swim for shore sooner, considering how close they were to the coast:

… in this particular case, taking into account the proximity of the shore, it is hard not to think that had the two men struck out for the shore immediately after the boat capsized, before their strength had been sapped by the cold and their efforts to remain afloat, the chances of both surviving would have been greatly enhanced.

An aerial view of the scene of the tragedy, taken later later on 10 January (Image:

The marine investigators also note that although Tate had left word ashore that he expected to be home by 6.30am, he wasn’t missed until after the search and rescue effort had concluded, which was after 9am. According the the report:

This incident highlights the need to ensure that someone ashore is aware of the importance of contacting the emergency services soon after a deadline has passed.

The report makes a number of recommendations arising out of what happened, including one that owners and skippers of small boats check them regularly to ensure there’s enough buoyancy.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was set up in 2002, and its main purpose is to establish the cause or causes of tragedies at sea. It then makes recommendations to the Minister for Transport “for the avoidance of similar marine casualties”. According to the board, it is not the purpose of an investigation to attribute blame or fault.

Three brothers lost their lives in a similar fishing tragedy in the area last month. Paul, Shane and Kenny Bolger died when their 18-foot punt overturned near Brownstown Head, between Tramore Bay and Dunmore East.

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Read: Brothers mourned as family claim ‘fishermen are being pushed to their limits’

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Daragh Brophy


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