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MCIB Report Identifies Lack of Planning & Communication Difficulties in Report on Deaths of Two Men in Sea Angling Incident off Donegal

13th November 2020
The 5.9m (19 ft) glass-reinforced plastic craft used by the anglers The 5.9m (19 ft) glass-reinforced plastic craft used by the anglers Photo: MCIB report

Lack of sufficient planning and lack of adequate emergency communication were factors in an incident where two of three men on a sea angling trip lost their lives off the Donegal coast over two years ago.

“Restrictive” procedures with the Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS) also meant the men on board the vessel were in the water for five hours before the alarm was raised, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report has found.

Two drafts of the MCIB report were circulated as part of a comprehensive investigation into the deaths of Gerry 'Malin' Doherty, who was in his sixties, and Thomas Weir (16) off Portronan, north Donegal, on July 17th, 2018.

A third man who is in his late 40s, survived after he clung onto a buoy for five hours before being spotted and brought to safety. He was the only one of the three wearing a personal flotation device.

The three had set out on a 5.9m (19 ft) glass-reinforced plastic craft from Port Ronan pier around 9 am that morning, and fished for over an hour. They were unable to restart the engine, and a wave washed over the hull and capsized it.

The report finds that seven factors contributed to the severity of the incident including the fact that the boat was anchored from the stern, making it more susceptible to being swamped in “any type of sea”.

The MCIB report notes that a crew member tried to make an emergency call on a British mobile phone, but as the call was being put through the phone fell into the water. There was no VHF radio onboard.

The emergency call was received by the ECAS centre but the report says that “restrictive procedures” were “not sufficiently flexible for a situation which required the ECAS operators to be more proactive in transferring all the information available to the Coast Guard”.

“Because the information in the recording of the emergency call was not transferred shortly after 10:16 hrs. the casualties were in the water for five hours,”the report says, and “this increased the severity of the incident”.

Marine communications are very different from land-based communications and the ECAS system is a land-based emergency call answering system with limitations for use at sea.

The MCIB report says that a mobile phone should not be relied on as the primary method of contacting emergency services and says that VHF radio as the primary means of contacting emergency services should be used by all boat owners in all instances, including in competitive sailing events.

The MCIB says that since the incident, the Irish Coast Guard has protocols in place for handling emergency calls and ECAS has also “updated policies.

However, it says that the Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport should consider whether the Irish Coast Guard and ECAS “should have these policies, their implementation internally, and their coordination with each other, suitably reviewed and or audited”.

The MCIB report is here

Published in MCIB, Angling
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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