On the 30th September 2018 at approximately 08.30 hrs a recreational powerboat departed from Coonanna Pier in Co. Kerry with three persons on board.
The vessel sailed out of the harbour and proceeded westwards to fish with rods in Dingle Bay.
At 11.00 hrs crew member No.1 received a mobile phone call from his wife. He told her that the water was “no good, not stable” and that he wanted to come back.
His wife called him again at 14.30 hrs but there was no reply.
At approximately 18.00 hrs a member of the public saw the bow of a boat at the entrance to Coonanna Harbour and shortly afterwards observed a person in the water closer to the pier.
The person informed the Coast Guard which tasked a SAR helicopter and the Valentia Lifeboat. The helicopter recovered three bodies from the water.
The remains of the boat were recovered the next day.
There are four main factors which likely combined to cause this incident:
- The design and construction of the boat.
- Failure to plan for the voyage and for emergency situations.
- Failure to appreciate the limitations of the boat.
- The consumption of alcohol by two of the three crew.
- The vessel was not suitable for the conditions and voyage on the day.
- The vessel did not carry the basic safety equipment as recommended in the CoP for Recreational Craft.
The crew wore buoyancy vests which are sleeveless jackets without a collar. Unlike a lifejacket which completely supports the body and keeps the head back and out of the water a buoyancy vest only provides limited support.
- The crew had not planned the voyage sufficiently and were not prepared for an emergency.
- The vessel was swamped by a wave washing over the transom of the heavily laden boat. This wave was a combination of the boat’s wake wave and a swell wave.
When the boat was sighted at 18.00 hrs it was stern underwater and bow pointing upwards. This indicates that the boat was swamped from astern so the cockpit rapidly filled with water and tipped the crew into the sea. The air trapped in the bow of the boat, along with the internal foam buoyancy, kept the boat afloat with stern down due to the weight of the two outboard engines. This may have occurred at the west side of the entrance before 14.30 hrs. The crew and boat drifted in and across the harbour to the position in which they were sighted at 18.00 hrs.
- The fatalities resulted from a prolonged period in cold water as there was no means of indicating distress.
- The omissions and deficiencies by the crew stemmed from a lack of knowledge and training.
- Mobile phones are not reliable as a means of contacting the emergency services and a marine VHF radio should be used. This vessel was not equipped with marine VHF radios.
- Buoyancy aids are only suitable where a person will be quickly lifted from the water. PFDs which support the head out of the water are required in situations where the person is in the water for a prolonged period of time.
- It is likely that consumption of alcohol by two of the three crew resulted in diminished ability to cope with the prevailing conditions and impaired performance in addressing an emergency.
Tests undertaken by the State Laboratory for the autopsies indicated concentrations of blood ethanol at 148mg% for the Skipper, zero for Crewmember No. 1 and 191mg% for Crewmember No. 2. Under the terms of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 2018 a concentration of blood ethanol at 51 mg to 80 mg per 100 ml of blood incurs a penalty of automatic disqualification for fully licenced drivers.
- All owners and users of vessels must comply with the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft.
- All owners and users of vessels must abide by the prohibition on consumption of alcohol as detailed in Marine Notice No. 11 of 2018 'Prohibitions on consumption of alcohol and/or drugs'.
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