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MCIB Report into Death of Galway Fisherman Published

12th November 2021
The six-metre fishing vessel Myia (pictured right) from which fisherman Tom Oliver was dragged over the stern in a fatal accident in November 2020.
The six-metre fishing vessel Myia (pictured right) from which fisherman Tom Oliver was dragged overboard in an accident in November 2020

An investigation into the death of a Galway fisherman who became entangled in gear off Salthill last year has found the weather deteriorated “significantly” after the vessel which he fished with his father left the harbour.

Tom Oliver (37), a relative of the Olivers who rescued two paddleboarders in Galway Bay in August 2020, died after he was dragged over the stern of the six-metre fishing vessel Myia on November 2nd 2020.

His father Martin, who was almost 62, was found dead at home the following morning.

After the incident, the then Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbard paid tribute to the two men as “salt of the earth” and “the best of friends”.

Cubbard noted that it was only a few weeks since he had recognised the role of their relatives, Patrick and Morgan Oliver, in rescuing paddleboarders Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn after 15 hours at sea.

Several generations of the Oliver family have been associated with the RNLI lifeboat service, and members of the RNLI and the fishing communities along the coast and on the Aran Islands were among hundreds who attended the funeral of the father and son.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report into the incident said that “violent movements” generated by the worsening sea conditions while feeding out shrimp pots may have been a contributory factor.

The use of a mobile phone to generate a distress call, instead of a Mayday call over VHF radio, “added some delay, however short, in the alert of the emergency services”, the report found.

The report said a Mayday call over VHF radio would have been picked up immediately by Valentia Coast Guard, leading to immediate activation of the lifeboat crew pagers.

It said that activation of a personal locator beacon, which can be fitted to a PFD or lifejacket, would also have triggered an instant distress call.

It said the casualty was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) or lifejacket while operating on an open deck in hazardous conditions.

“Wearing a suitably specified and fitted PFD would have greatly improved his chances of survival,” the report stated.

The report noted that the crew were very experienced at potting in the Galway Bay area, and had been working on the twin-hulled vessel FV Myia for ten years, fishing lobster in summer and shrimp during the winter.

The report said that the weather “deteriorated considerably between the time the vessel left the harbour at midday on November 2nd, 2020, and the time of the incident.

“As seen in the Met Éireann weather report at the time of the incident there were near gale force winds, heavy rainfall, and rough seas,” it said.

“ These conditions were extremely challenging for a vessel of this size and construction and would have led to violent movements,” it said.

It noted that there are no manufacturers recommendations on the operational limitations of this type of vessel, and the manufacturing company is no longer in existence.

The report recalled that at approximately 1.30 pm, the men were resetting a train of pots when Tom Oliver got entangled in rope attached to the train of pots.

“ The weight of the train of pots combined with the forward motion of the vessel quickly pulled him overboard and under the water,” it said.

The Galway RNLI lifeboat operations manager was contacted by mobile phone, and he requested activation of pagers for an immediate launch of the inshore lifeboat.

It arrived quickly on the scene, and the lifeboat crew found the casualty caught in ropes and unconscious in the water.

The lifeboat crew got the casualty on board and immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It requested an ambulance, which met it at the lifeboat station.

Tom Oliver was brought to Galway University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The lifeboat then launched again to escort the fishing vessel Myia back to the harbour.

The MCIB recommends that the Minister for Transport should issue marine notices reminding fishing crew of the obligation to wear a PFD while working on open decks, and of the dangers associated with snagging in gear while setting trains of pots.

It also recommends that the minister issue marine notices to encourage use of VHF radio for distress calls, to point out the limitations of mobile phones for this purpose, and to advise fishers to know the limitations of vessels and to be aware always of weather forecasts before going to sea.

Published in MCIB
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