An Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter will assist the search. Sam Boal/
hook head

Search for missing fisherman off Wexford coast stood down until morning

Willie Whelan remains missing after the fishing boat got into difficulty on Saturday night.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 6th 2020, 5:20 PM

A SEARCH FOR a missing fisherman off the coast of Wexford has been suspended for today.

On Saturday night, the alarm was raised that a fishing boat was in difficulty off Hook Head.

It came in the form of an automatic signal being sent to the Coast Guard that the boat sank rather than an alarm raised by the individuals on the boat. 

The Coast Guard initiated a search that evening. RNLI crews from Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and Fethard-on-Sea and the Coast Guard are now leading the search, with two rescue helicopters also involved.

Two men were aboard the boat which sank. One of the men – Joe Sinnott – was taken to University Hospital Waterford where he later died.

Willie Whelan remains missing. Rescuers are focusing on searching an area about six nautical miles south of Hook Head.

The search was stood down on Sunday evening due to wet and windy weather conditions.

It resumed this morning with the Irish navy patrol vessel LE Ciara taking command of the operation amid what were described as “tough” search conditions. 

The search was stood down at 5pm this evening, the RNLI said on Twitter, adding that crews “hope to resume tomorrow first light”. 

The Waterford based Coast Guard helicopter, Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East RNLI units coordinated today by LÉ CIARA conducted the search with shoreline searches conducted by Fethard and Kilmore Quay Coast Guard units.

In a statement this evening, Irish Coast Guard said: “The operation is now categorised as a Search and Recovery operation and  the Coast Guard will continue to support an Garda Síochána and the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) with the ongoing search and investigation.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland today, Coast Guard unit manager Niall Ferns said the Status Yellow gale warning on Irish coastal waters which is currently in place will affect the search. 

“At the moment, unfortunately, the winds have increased [with] gale force 8 southerly winds,” he said. “That is going to have an impact on the search today.”

He added that the weather conditions may mean a “smaller search”. 

“There is a possibility the weather on scene will improve this afternoon,” Ferns said. “We’ll be continuing with the search with all the assets we have.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this morning spoke to Irish Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan, thanking the staff and volunteers for their ongoing work in the search operation. 

“As the search continues, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing fisherman and those of his bereaved colleague,” Varadkar said. 

“As a former Minister for Transport, I am very conscious of the brave service provided by the Coast Guard’s staff and volunteers right around our coastline. I also acknowledged the vital assistance of the RNLI, the Civil Defence and other volunteers in this search and throughout the year,” he said. 

Varadkar confirmed the Defence Forces is also providing assistance in the search. 

“In my role as Minister for Defence, I assured Mr Clonan that the Defence Forces will be available to provide further assistance if required,” the Taoiseach said.

Also speaking to Morning Ireland, independent local councillor Ger Carty extended his deepest sympathies to the Sinnott and Whelan families. 

He said Joe Sinnott was a 65-year-old married man with four children who had fishing and the sea “in his DNA”. 

“Something catastrophic happened,” Carty said, referring to the incident on Saturday night. “Today, it’s a mystery.”

[These kinds of incidents] have a lasting effect on a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone on the coast. It has a ripple effect… Conditions are difficult enough today. We hope and pray this search will reap benefit and bring William Whelan back to his family.

With reporting by Press Association. 

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