Lough Swilly and Portrush RNLI were requested to launch their all-weather lifeboats by Belfast Coastguard at 2.15 pm on Saturday (14 December) following a Mayday alert from a 45ft fishing boat.
The five men who had been fishing for crab got into difficulty 20 miles north of Fanad Head. The boat lost power and encountered steering difficulties while violent waves smashed the wheelhouse windows in.
Lough Swilly RNLI volunteers launched their all-weather lifeboat and started their 90-minute journey to the scene some 34 nautical miles from their station. Portrush RNLI meanwhile, had 50 nautical miles to travel. Weather conditions at the time were extremely challenging with the volunteers facing Force 9-10 gales and sea swells of 50ft. Arranmore RNLI was requested to launch shortly after at 4 pm.
Once on scene, Lough Swilly RNLI’s lifeboat crew assessed the situation and checked that the five crew were safe and well. The fishermen were cold, tired and shaken from the severity of the weather conditions but were otherwise in good health. Due to the challenging conditions, the decision was made to leave the crew on board their boat rather than transfer them to the lifeboat. The lifeboat crew worked with the fishermen to establish a tow but despite attempts, the tow parted on three occasions in the storm. On arrival Arranmore RNLI’s lifeboat took over the tow and brought the vessel back into the mouth of Lough Swilly where the tow was transferred to Lough Swilly’s lifeboat to allow Arranmore’s RNLI’s crew make the three and half hour return trip back to their station in heavy seas.
Speaking following the call out, Joe Joyce, Lough Swilly RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer said: ‘This was an extremely challenging call out for all the RNLI volunteers involved and we are delighted that the five fishermen were brought safely back to shore.
‘Our lifeboats launched in dangerous weather conditions on Saturday afternoon and our volunteers, 20 in all, spent almost 15 hours at sea, most of it in the hours of darkness. They faced gale-force conditions and 50ft swells but with great courage, selflessness and teamwork they successfully met and overcame those challenges to bring the fishermen to safety.
‘While challenging for our crews, this call out was a huge testament to the level of training RNLI volunteers undergo. Lifeboat crew members are highly trained and skilled to carry out such challenging work and thanks to the generosity of the public, we are provided with the best of equipment and technology to save lives at sea.’