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Coroner advises safety at sea at fisherman’s inquest

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DEPARTURE The late Daniel Doherty left from Rinroe Pier on his last journey. Pic: Mary Fallon

Edwin McGreal

A Coroner has warned of the risks facing fishermen if they are not fully equipped to deal with the dangers at sea.
Coroner for North Mayo Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald was speaking at the inquest in Belmullet into the death of 23-year-old Daniel Doherty from Carrowteigue, Ballina in September, 2015.
Mr Doherty was reported missing on September 11, 2015 and his boat was found that night. However, Mr Doherty’s remains were not found for two weeks, when fishermen in Lacken Bay discovered his body in the water, some 20 miles east from where his boat was found.  
Dr Fitzgerald recorded a verdict of accidental death by drowning and issued a number of recommendations after hearing the facts of the case.
She recommended that fishermen should not be on their own at sea; that lifejackets should be worn at all times and that fishermen should take regular steps to ensure the safety of their vessels, after a report concluded there were issues with the structural strength of Daniel’s boat.
Daniel had went out to sea from Rinroe Pier, on the east side of Broadhaven Bay, on his boat the ‘Tara Rose’ on the morning of September 11 to attend to his lobster pots off Benwee Head.
His uncle Ciarán Doherty told the inquest he reported Daniel missing on the evening of September 11 after Daniel’s boat failed to return to Rinroe Pier. He admitted that it would not be wise to be at sea on your own.
Fisherman Cathal Reilly said he had spoken with Daniel on the morning of September 11 and Daniel intended to be ashore before any possible break in the weather. Mr Reilly said it was ‘impossible to know what happened’ to Daniel and his boat.

Dangers of rescue efforts
Alan Murray, mechanic with the Ballyglass Lifeboat, gave evidence of locating the Tara Rose stranded on a beach near Benwee Head on the night of September 11.
He and Eamonn Dixon left the lifeboat and went to shore in a smaller craft to see if Daniel Doherty was with his boat.
He told the inquest that three quarters of the starboard side of the boat was ‘pulled out’ and gave evidence of the dangers they encountered. There were ‘landslides from the cliffs above us’ and they struggled to get back out to the lifeboat.
They made numerous attempts to get out through the surf but were unsuccessful and were ‘fired out’ of their boat on several occasions. They launched a flare but, before 10pm, were able to take advantage of a break in the surf and get out to sea and onto the lifeboat. The inquest heard an extensive land and sea search took place for the next two weeks.
Fisherman Stephen McHale told the inquest that he was fishing in Lacken Bay on September 25. He had helped with the search and some four miles out to sea he noticed a body in the water. It was Daniel Doherty’s remains.
Coroner Eleanor Fitzgerald noted that after ten days, a dead body will rise to the surface. Dr Fitzgerald added the most likely date of death was September 11, as Mr Doherty’s boat was found that night.

Structural issues
She spoke about the report from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which concluded that ‘the loss of this vessel and crew member was due to structural failure of the vessel whilst hauling lobster pots’. The report stated there was an issue with the fitting of the hydraulic pot hauler which had led to a strain on the boat’s timbers when hauling pots.
Dr Fitzgerald stated the report showed that the vessel may have come into contact with rocks before being stranded on the beach and ‘some weaknesses in the boat may have allowed it to break up on impact’.
Dr Fitzgerald said Mr Doherty being on his own and not wearing a lifejacket were also factors.
She said these factors were ‘no compensation’ to Daniel Doherty’s family or girlfriend in ‘a very difficult case’ but highlighting these factors could help to prevent another tragedy.