An investigation into the death of a man in a small boat sinking off Connemara last year has found that he had purchased substantial safety equipment, almost none of which was on board at the time of the fatal incident writes Lorna Siggins
The only safety equipment on board was a life ring of a “non-approved type” which could not float free when the 16.5m open boat began taking in water, according to the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.
The incident involved a 6.5m (21) ft glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) open boat named Béal Sruthán which was laying lobster pots off Craugh island, west of Omey, on May 23rd, 2018.
The boat owner, Vincent Leggett (62) of Coolacloy, Clifden, Co Galway, was using the vessel for the first time since it had been modified and was on his third run of the day to set lobster pots from a pier near Coolacloy..
Weather conditions were good at the time with light variable winds, and the owner was alone, and was not wearing a personal flotation device on the working deck.
The owner had undergone Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) basic safety training in April 2015, and was approved for grants to buy equipment through the BIM fleet safety scheme.
Equipment purchased included a PFD with an inbuilt personal locator beacon, an emergency position indicating radio beacon, a number of flares, smoke signals, first aid kit and fire extinguishers, along with a VHF transceiver and an approved lifebuoy with a 30-metre safety line.
The alarm was raised in the late afternoon of May 23rd, 2018 when Mr Leggett rang a friend by mobile phone to say the vessel was taking in water. The contact onshore alerted the emergency services but was unable to reach Mr Leggett again by phone.
The RNLI Clifden lifeboat, and Irish Coast Guard helicopter were tasked, and the emergency services were on the scene in approximately 25 minutes.
The initial search area was given as the south-west corner of Craugh island west of Omey, but there was nothing to be seen when the RNLI arrived.
The casualty was located lying in the water by the Irish Coast Guard helicopter which directed the RNLI vessel to the location, north east of where it was. The casualty was not wearing a PFD when recovered from the water, the report states.
The report notes that there was no formal communication to a responsible person onshore as to the time of departure and expected time of return, and the vessel did not make a VHF radio call or operate a locator beacon.
The report states that the boat was bought second-hand in late 2017 and worked on over the winter period in preparation for the 2018 season.
One modification undertaken was the removal of the inboard diesel engine that was installed, cropping the transom and mounting a Yamaha 50 hp outboard motor on the transom.
The MCIB report says the boat was not inspected or measured before the incident and was not examined under the State’s code of practice for the design, construction, equipment and operation of small fishing vessels of less than 15 m length overall.
The report states the modifications made to the vessel should only have been carried out in consultation with a naval architect and notes the weight of the inboard engine, located amidships in the cockpit area was transferred to the transom.
The MCIB says it was unclear as to whether the vessel was engaged in commercial or recreational fishing, but should have complied with requirements of the code of practice for either type of vessel. It says the vessel did not have a declaration of compliance or a licence to engage in commercial fishing.
The report recommendations include issuing a marine notice on safety of small fishing vessels engaged in potting operations, and a reminder of the dangers associated with modifying vessels, including changing an engine without proper evaluation.