Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

9:00 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise this important but sad issue and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, for taking the matter. The Maggie B sank 8.6 kilometres off Hook Head off the coast of Wexford on Wednesday, 29 March 2006. Two crew were lost, the skipper, Glen Cott, a native of Ballycotton, who was a former student of mine, and a Polish national, Jan Sankowski, who I am told was a 45 year old, experienced seafarer. Thankfully, one survivor was picked up shortly after the accident.

At least one dive has been made on the site. The family of Mr. Cott have approached me and I spoke with the owners of the boat who asked me to request the Minister of State to put in place measures to raise the boat, if possible. An issue also arose with regard to the Naval Service not being allowed to dive on the boat.

This is an important issue. The family want to know what happened. I am told the trawler passed a survey shortly before it was purchased by the present owners. It sank very quickly and it is possible that one or both bodies are still on the boat. The family and the owners are anxious to have closure on this matter. The one way that can be achieved is for the boat to be raised. I ask the Minister to explore every avenue to ascertain whether this is possible. If not, I ask that the Naval Service, with its expertise, knowledge and back-up, would be allowed to dive on the boat to discover what happened. I am told that the norm in other countries is, if at all possible, to raise such boats to discover what happened.

I express my sympathy to the families of both victims of this awful tragedy. I implore the Minister of State to use his good offices to accede to the request of the families, which has also been agreed to by the owners.

Photo of Ned O'KeeffeNed O'Keeffe (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Stanton for allowing me time and thank the Minister of State for agreeing to that. I visited the Cott family, whom I know personally because the father of the family comes from north Cork, which is my area. I spoke with Mrs. Cott today. All the family wants is for the Naval Service to dive to search the boat, and to have it raised, to find out what happened to it.

We are dealing with a compassionate situation which is hard on the family given that their son has not been found. They would like to have him taken from the sea to be given a Christian burial and be back with his family in Ballycotton. The family have always been loyal to and supported the State. The least we could have from the Government and the Minister of State is an assurance that the Naval Service would do what is necessary. The Naval Service has carried out such tasks in the past and has the necessary equipment. Whether an attempt is successful, to have tried would alleviate the fears of the family.

As a Government Deputy, I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, to do all he can on compassionate grounds to alleviate the hardship for the family. It is a sad and difficult time for them. I thank Deputy Stanton, with whom I often co-operate.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this issue. I also thank Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, who has just spoken, and Deputy O'Donovan and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, who contacted me in this regard. I take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to the families of Glen Cott and Jan Sankowski who tragically drowned with the sinking of the fishing vessel Maggie B off Hook Head on 29 March of this year.

The Coast Guard, on being alerted, immediately tasked resources to the scene of this incident, and the third crew member, Kristoph Pawtowski, was rescued from the water, clinging to the upturned life-raft. Based on information received and with the assistance of its search computer, the Coast Guard carried out a thorough search of the area, both at sea and on the shoreline for 21 days using helicopters, lifeboats, local fishing vessels, Coast Guard shore units and members of the public. I take this opportunity to thank all those involved, especially the volunteers, of whom many were involved. They gave of their time freely to search for the missing men.

No two incidents regarding the sinking of fishing vessels are the same. In the case of the Maggie B a distress call was made to the Coast Guard giving the vessel's position.

In addition, the emergency position indication radio beacon, EPIRB, was activated, and the life raft launched and inflated. Parallels are being drawn between this tragic case and the recent loss of the fishing vessel, the Rising Sun, in which I was involved. However, in the case of the Rising Sun no distress call was made and no EPIRB was activated. That meant there was a possibility that the skipper of the Rising Sun had re-entered the wheelhouse to activate the EPIRB. Therefore, I took the decision to raise the vessel. The owner of the vessel the Maggie B engaged several divers to dive to the vessel and search for the missing men. That was done, and it confirmed the Coast Guard's view that the two bodies were not on or around the vessel. I am advised it would be unnecessary to raise the Maggie B for that reason.

Sadly, it is now well established that the bodies of those who drown in the area tend to be carried by underwater currents in an easterly direction, and some have even been located on the Welsh coastline. As is its usual practice, the Irish Coast Guard has informed its colleagues in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the UK. They are therefore aware of the possibility that the bodies may be found on their coast.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, was established in 2002 to carry out investigations into marine casualties. The MCIB is charged with investigating marine accidents involving all types of craft in Ireland. The main purpose of the board's investigation is to establish the cause or causes of a marine casualty with a view to making recommendations to me to avoid similar incidents. Investigations carried out by the board do not attribute blame or fault, and I understand the MCIB is carrying out an investigation into the sinking of the Maggie B. It is most important that the facts of this tragic incident be established. Members will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any aspect of this case while it is still under investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.