An Irish international maritime lawyer has called for a Garda inquiry into the State's role in investigating marine accidents writes Lorna Siggins.
Michael Kingston, whose father Tim died in the Whiddy island Betelgeuse explosion 41 years ago, visited Garda headquarters on Wednesday to seek an inquiry into the conduct of marine investigations.
Calling for a “root and branch review” of the Department of Transport’s maritime safety directorate, Mr Kingston was accompanied at his meeting with the Garda’s liaison and protection unit to the national maritime safety committee by Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Anne Marie O’Brien, whose brother John O’Brien and his friend Patrick Esmonde drowned in 2010 off Helvick Head, Co Wexford.
Mr Kingston said he had asked the Garda to investigate what he termed “the failings of the State in investigating maritime accidents, as a matter of urgency in order to save life and to establish the fundamental rights of victims in death and those of their family members in investigations".
Ireland has already been referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to uphold EU law on “impartial” investigations of marine incidents.
The European Commission said in July 2018 that the presence of Ireland’s Department of Transport Secretary-General or nominee, and the Irish Marine Survey Office’s chief surveyor, on the five-person board could represent a conflict to interest.
The Department of Transport said it had not been notified of a complaint lodged with the Gardai and had “no comment in that regard”.
The Department also said it had “no comment” to make in advance of any judgment in relation to “proceedings underway in the European Court of Justice relating to the independence of the MCIB board”
The Garda Press Office said that a meeting was held at Garda headquarters on Wednesday, January 8th, between “members of An Garda Síochána acting on behalf of the Commissioner and Mr Michael Kingston.
“At the meeting Mr. Kingston passed correspondence to the members, the content of which is currently being considered,” it said.
The MCIB says it has not been advised of any complaint.
Mr Kingston, who has worked as a consultant to the International Maritime Organisation, also claims that the State had been alerted to malfunctioning of emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) before an incident in which the beacons failed and three brothers lost their lives off the Waterford coast.
Paul (49), Kenny (47) and Shane (44) Bolger from Passage East, Co Waterford drowned when their punt capsized in Tramore Bay in June 2013.
All three brothers had been wearing lifejackets and may have relied on the EPIRB activation with water to alert rescue agencies to their location, but the signals were not picked up.
The year after the incident, the manufacturer issued a product recall for EPIRBs manufactured between January 2005 and February 2008. The Department of Transport subsequently confirmed that in 2010 it had contacted the manufacturer over false alerts and battery failures.
Referring to the Whiddy island explosion which claimed 51 lives in 1979, Mr Kingston said the issues raised by him “are a repeat of history, of our failure to learn lessons, of our failure to have correct structures in place for safety, and of our State failure to take responsibility for wrongdoing”.
He also expressed his sympathies to the families of Willie Whelan and Joe Sinnott, the two fishermen who lost their lives off the Wexford coast at the weekend, and to the family of fisherman Kodie Healy, who died in a fishing incident in Dunmanus Bay, Co Cork, in October 2019.
As the search continued for Mr Whelan, prayers were said for him and for his family at the funeral of Mr Sinnott in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford on Wednesday.
The MCIB is investigating the sinking of the 11. 7 metre Alize off Hook Head at the weekend, amid concerns how a vessel in good condition could have sunk.
The alarm was raised when the vessel’s EPIRB activated on Saturday night, and Mr Sinnott was taken from the water by the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 117 helicopter but did not survive.