Four Galway based fishermen and a Romanian crewman are making their way home after a terrifying experience when the trawler they were fishing on sank off the west coast of Scotland on Tuesday.
The men had a lucky escape as they all managed to be dramatically saved by the Scottish coastguard rescue helicopter.
The Iúda Naofa is a 23 metre vessel which is based at the port of Rossaveal. The boat is owned by Inis Mór native Máirtín “Twenty” O’Conghaile who was acting as skipper for the fishing expedition. Mr O’Conghaile’s son Micheál was also on board along with Carna natives Paraic Breathnach and Eric Hernon. The Romanian man was the fifth member of the crew.
Iúda Naofa began taking on water 48 miles north of the Butt of Lewis at about 11am on Tuesday.The coastguard was immediately notified of a fishing vessel in distress. It is now being speculated that the extremely stormy weather found a weakness in the boat’s hull which led to a crack forming and the subsequent leakage.
Crew frantically tried to pump the water from the vessel and they requested the coastguard to bring another salvage pump to aid their efforts. However it is thought the ingress of water led to a problem with the boat’s electrics and the on-board pump began to fail. By the time the coastguard from Stornaway arrived on the scene, the vessel had become swamped and started to sink.
The five men were submerged in the water but were protected by water-proof safety suits which have in-built life-jackets. It is believed the Romanian national and Eric Hernon - whose father was watching the dramatic scene unfold on-board nearby sister fishing vessel, the Star of Hope - managed to make their way to the boat’s life-raft while the three others were floating in the water for a number of minutes. It was obviously an extremely distressing experience compounded by the fact the water was only about four degrees.
The helicopter airlifted Mr Hernon and the Romanian fisherman on to the Star of Hope. The other three were winched on to the helicopter and transferred to the Western Isles hospital, where they were treated for mild hypothermia. They were kept overnight for observation and have suffered no lasting ill-effects.
Coastguard duty watch manager, Paul Tunstall, said weather conditions on scene were very rough at the time of the rescue. “We were dealing with southerly force six winds, and a strong swell, evacuating the five crew swiftly and safely before the vessel went down was a great achievement.’’
The Galway and Aran Fishermen’s Co-op is the handling agent for the boat. General manager Sean Griffin says everybody is immensely relieved that the men managed to be rescued safely. “They are all obviously quite shaken but in good sprits overall. They know how lucky they were. We have seen tragedies here before and thankfully another one has been avoided. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Scottish rescue services who were on the scene very very fast and were utterly professional in what were very difficult weather conditions.’’
Mr Griffin says the four fishermen along with Máirtín O’Conghaile, who all work in the industry full-time, are now out of a job and will be seeking work elsewhere. He said he could not speak on behalf of Mr O’Conghaile but hoped he would be in a position to purchase another trawler in due course.
The two crewmen who were airlifted on to the Star of Hope are en route home on that vessel while the remaining crew were looked after by the Mission to Seafarers in Stornoway which fed them and paid for a ferry to the mainland. They travelled to Inverness last night and were trying to secure flights to Ireland where they are expected back into Dublin or Belfast at some stage today [Thursday].
The men will return home to relieved family members today with this incident, once again, highlighting the precarious nature of life at sea.