Ulster anglers could have lived if boat had radio

Daryl Burke, fisherman, died after incident in Lough Ree
Daryl Burke, fisherman, died after incident in Lough Ree

The lives of two fishermen from Northern Ireland could have been saved if their poorly-repaired boat had been fitted with basic safety equipment, an investigation has found.

Armagh anglers David Warnock, 27, and Daryl Burke, 30, died after the vessel they had borrowed for a camping and fishing trip on Lough Ree, Co Roscommon, sank last year.

David Warnock

David Warnock

Dublin’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board found there were holes in the 4.2 metre flat-bottomed craft.

A crucial joint between the deck and the hull was in poor condition, while several large drill holes were found on the upper side of the boat, known as the gunwale.

Furthermore, the accident investigators said the transom, or back of the boat, was poorly repaired after suffering previous damage.

“It had several holes in it, possibly as a result of fitting different types of outboard brackets over the lifetime of the vessel,” it said in an official report into the tragedy.

It is believed these holes were 50mm below water level at the time the men set out on the boat from Hodson Bay towards their camping site and were letting up to three litres of water into the boat every minute.

A survivor said no significant wave hit the boat and that it sank very quickly from the stern, or the rear of the vessel.

While there were three people on board, the only safety equipment was two life-jackets.

“Had the boat been equipped with flares and a VHF radio it is possible that the rescue services would have arrived at the scene earlier and perhaps have saved the lives of the two casualties,” the investigation found.

Mr Burke from Portadown left behind three young sons and his pregnant wife Louise, 28, who later gave birth to their first daughter.

Mr Burke and Mr Warnock, from Richhill, and a third friend, 60-year-old John Trimble, who survived, were among a group of six friends using two boats on a fishing trip on March 20 2014.

They were members of the Portadown Pikers angling club.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board said the borrowed boat was not registered with Waterways Ireland, as it should have been under by-laws.

The water seeping in to the vessel would have gone unnoticed as it collected in “void spaces”, the report found.

As it took on more water, more holes would have become immersed in the lake and, combined with the spray and waves, this would likely have speeded up the flooding, it is believed.

“This would have led to catastrophic flooding, which would cause the vessel’s stern to submerge,” it said. “The vessel would have sunk almost instantaneously thereafter.”

The investigators have called on Waterways Ireland to erect signs warning boat users of local dangers, of the necessity of life jackets and having basic safety equipment.

They also urged enforcement measures to ensure all vessels using Lough Ree are safe.