The inquest into the deaths of two fishermen heard the Wexford trawler Alize WD 207 sank “extremely quickly”
The inquest into the deaths of two fishermen who drowned when the fishing vessel Alize WD 207 sank off Hook Head, Co Wexford in January 2020 heard that the boat sank “extremely quickly”.
On Friday, 03 December, the Coroner’s Inquest returned the verdicts of accidental death by drowning in the case of 65-year old Joe Sinnott from Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford and 41-year old William Whelan from Gurteens, Saltmills, Co Wexford.
At the time of the disappearance of the Alize, the two men had been dredging for scallops 7 nautical miles southwest of Hook Head on 04 January 2020. It was due to be their final tow of the trip and had been due in the harbour at around 11.15pm.
The Inquest heard that at the time of the sinking the Alize was carrying 29 bags of scallops, weighing a tonne, well under the weight limit for the scallop dredger, which had a weight limit of three tonnes.
The Inquest heard that the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) was activated at 10.30pm on the night of 04 January.
The Irish Coast Guard helicopter and Dunmore East lifeboat were called out by MRCC Dublin and Mr Sinnott was later taken from the sea before midnight by the R117 Coast Guard helicopter but was pronounced dead in hospital.
Following an extensive search involving State and voluntary agencies and individuals, the body of Willie Whelan was found on 22 January 2020 on the wreck of the Alize by members of the Hook Sub Aqua Club. The body was recovered by navy divers two days later.
Coroner Dr Sean Nixon said that the Marine Casualty Investigation Board’s inquiry into the tragedy found there were no distress calls and no flares, and the body of the skipper William Whelan was trapped behind equipment on the deck of the Alize, all of which indicated that the boat sank “extremely quickly”, with no time to issue distress calls or flares.
Coroner Dr Sean Nixon offered commiserations to both families on their loss and said that this tragic incident once again served to “highlight the bravery of our fishing fleets, who work in very difficult conditions”.
Willie Whelan’s brother, also a fisherman, provided the opening evidence and said his brother and Mr Sinnott left Duncannon for what they planned would be a relatively short fishing trip on 03 January 2020. He said he spoke to his brother at approximately 6.50pm on the night the Alize sank and spoke about fishing.
Mr Whelan’s father, Joseph Whelan, said he also spoke to his son that evening. Willie told his father that they were “on the last haul” at around 8.45pm.
Health and Safety Inspector Edward Wall gave evidence that both skipper Willie Whelan and Joe Sinnott were vastly experienced and capable fishermen.
He said that the Alize was constructed in 1989 and had been “completely refurbished” by Mr Joseph Whelan when he purchased the vessel in 2013. The boat received its certification as sea-worthy in 2018 and this was to remain valid until 2022.
Coroner Dr Sean Nixon referenced the findings of a report from the Marine Casualty Investigations Board (MCIB).
“The fact that no distress signal was issued, and no flares deployed, as well as the fact that the skipper’s body was found trapped behind equipment on the deck, indicates that the boat must have sank very quickly and capsized very quickly,” Dr Nixon said.
The cause of death for both crew members was drowning, and Dr Nixon recommended that the jury return a verdict of accidental death in both cases. They agreed with the coroner’s recommendation.
Dr Nixon thanked all of the emergency services involved in the operation to recover both fishermen, as did both families.