Trawler inquiry labelled 'a shambles'

The owner of a trawler which sank off the North Coast with the loss of his father and uncle has criticised Dublin-based authorities over what he claimed was their failure to carry out a proper inquiry into the tragedy.

Danny McDaid, 70, and his brother Francis, 69, drowned when their boat vanished almost five years ago near Inishowen Head, Co Donegal, close to the mouth of Lough Foyle.

Their bodies were recovered that day, but it was four weeks before divers were sent down to check the wreckage which by then had broken up, according to Frankie McDaid.

“The investigation has been a shambles from day one,” he claimed.

An inquest into their deaths was due to re-open today in Coleraine, Co Derry, but the hearing was called off after the senior Northern Ireland Coroner John Leckey ruled he had no power to conduct the hearing as the drownings happened outside his jurisdiction.

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) carried out an initial inquiry, but once it was discovered the boat sank in Irish territorial waters the matter was then handed over to the Dublin-based Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB).

At the time of the drownings, locals claimed the trawler, which was fishing for lobsters, could have been pulled down when the nets were caught by a passing vessel. There was a tanker in the area at the time.

But Mr Leckey insisted today there was no evidence in a report of the investigation by the MCIB that there had been any sort of collision.

“All we do know is that for whatever reason the trawler sank,” he said.

The McDaid brothers came from Glengad, seven miles from Malin.

Frankie McDaid, 40, Francis McDaid’s son, revealed he was facing legal proceedings following the tragedy in March 2008.

The trawler, Strath Marie, was insured, but the lives of the two men were not.

After today’s hearing he said he was angry that the authorities took too long to examine the wreckage which was discovered by local fishermen and a lifeboat crew on the day the trawler went down.

He said: “We were under the impression the divers were going to go down then.

“But it took them four weeks and only because of political pressure (on the MCIB) to get them in.

“We don’t know what caused the trawler to sink.

“There was a tanker in the area at the time and if they had gone down to check the wreckage then, then that might have answered a lot of questions.

“It has just been a shambles from day one.

“This case has been going on for five years.

“We would never want another family to go through what we’ve been through.

“The divers were there to do their job and they should have been moved in much quicker.

“We’ve been told that this wasn’t the first time there has been a delay with divers.

“Time is of the essence.

“Everyone knew the boat was at the bottom.

“They knew exactly where it was, but by the time the divers got down, the bow had broken away.”

Some of the wreckage was swept up near Portstewart, according to Mr McDaid.

He said he assumed the trawler went down in waters under British control and he did not know if there would be a fresh hearing in Donegal.

The first inquest took place in Derry in October 2011 when the Coroner Brian Sherrard heard claims the boat may have been pulled under by a passing vessel, maybe a submarine.

But Mr Leckey said: “There is no evidence of any collision involving any other vessel.

“All we know is that the trawler, for whatever reason, sank.”

The bodies of the McDaid brothers were taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.

Mr Leckey said that was the only reason he was involved.

He could register their deaths and while he was not in a position to proceed, there was nothing to stop a coroner in Donegal holding an inquest.

He could also make arrangements to have the wreckage handed over to Mr McDaid or disposed of.

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