#MCIB - Wearing a personal flotation device could have helped save the life of a fisherman whose body was found at the Saltee Islands off Co Wexford this summer months after his disappearance, according to marine accident investigators.
As RTÉ News reports, the body of Paddy Barry, 56, was discovered on the shore of Great Saltee Island on 4 May more than five months after his fishing vessel, the MFV Leonora Jacinta, was found south of the island with no one aboard on 25 November 2013.
The official report into the incident by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) established that Barry, a part-time fishermen who could not swim, had set out from Kilmore Quay alone on the morning of his disappearance to lift and bait lobster pots, and retrieve a string of fouled pots close to Shoal Rock.
It was at the latter location where his boat was last seen headed at 11am, but around 11.50am a passing fishing vessel noted that Barry's boat had been stationary in that spot for some time.
Another vessel approached some 30 minutes later and found that the Leonora Jacinta was secured to a line of pots with its engine idling and its pot hauler set in neutral.
Lifeboat and coastguard teams were contacted immediately and began what became a 26-day search by land, sea and air around the area where the Leonora Jacinta was found, but the operation was stood down on 22 December due to deteriorating weather conditions.
According to the MCIB report, witnesses familiar with Barry confirmed that two personal floatation devices (PFDs) found on the Leonora Jacinta were the vessel's only PFDs – and indicated that Barry preferred not to wear one when he was working, against the Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels.
It was also found that the boat's gunwale was only half a metre high at the pot hauler, giving little stability in that deck position. Though not against regulations, it suggests that Barry could have been pitched overboard by the vessel lurching in even a slight swell.
In such an event, strong currents in the area could have carried Barry some two miles northeast of the boat within two hours, and lacking a lifejacket it would have been extremely difficult both for him to stay afloat and for rescuers to spot him.
Had he been wearing a PDF "it is likely that he would have remained on the surface and been visible to the search teams, which could have led to an early recovery," says the report – which also recommends amending the Code of Practice to set a minimum height for bulwarks, guard rails and hand rails.
The full MCIB report on the MFV Leonora Jacinta incident is available to download below.