Relief as crew escapes sinking of vessel off the Co Down coast

RNLI
RNLI

The family of a skipper whose fishing vessel sank yesterday voiced their relief that all involved had escaped safely.

The vessel Good Intent collided with another boat called Silver Dee shortly before 5.30am, around 10 miles south-east of Ardglass.

The Silver Dee began to take on water and was evacuated, with the crew boarding the Good Intent which had pulled up alongside. The Silver Dee then sank completely.

Both boats were fishing vessels with crews of five, estimated to be about 56 feet long.

An RNLI lifeboat from Newcastle was scrambled to the scene, while a ground team from the coastguard waited at Ardglass, with the RNLI accompanied the surviving vessel into harbour at roughly 7.45am. No crew members required medical help.

The skipper of the Silver Dee was Paul Wills, a 41-year-old father-of-five from Ardglass.

His wife Angela, 40, who has been married to him since 1998, said he was the last off the boat as it began going down.

“He’s obviously very upset – he’s lost his boat, and that’s his livelihood – but very, very relieved everybody got off safe,” she said.

When the News Letter called he was not home, and she said: “To be honest, he’s gone for a drink.”

She thanked the crew of both the Good Intent and the lifeboat, but added: “There’s no wages now, my husband has no job.”

Asked what will happen next, she said: “Just see if he can get another boat to skipper.”

She said he was in charge of the vessel since age 17, and was the youngest captain in Northern Ireland at the time.

Anthony Wills, Paul’s father, said the boat had been the fishing fleet’s flagship.

“It was a shock to everybody, and we’re just thankful that there was nobody hurt,” he said.

Dick James, CEO of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Association, said that the vessels had been heading out while it was still dark but that the weather conditions had been fine.

He said that the Silver Dee had been hit on its nose, with the result that “basically the bow of the boat was open to the sea”.

The crew donned survival suits, which are designed to be both warm and buoyant, and which Mr James described as being “like a onsie with feet”.

Coastguard watch officer Connor Lawson said it is “fairly rare” for a boat to sink completely, and this is the only such case off the Co Down coast this year.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has launched an investigation.