September 23, 2022

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A 53-year-old father of two would not have died if he was wearing a safety harness while working on a trawler fishing off the west coast of Ireland six years ago, an inquest into the man’s death has heard.

Jose Alberto Novo Vareiro, from Vila Ovo Conde in Portugal, was a crew member aboard the Dingle- based Cu na Mara when he fell overboard as the trawler was preparing to shoot nets for prawns near the Porcupine Bank 150 miles west of Dingle on June 30th, 2016.

Owner and skipper of the Cu na Mara, Michael Flannery told the inquest at Tralee Courthouse that he heard some shouting from the stern of the boat at around 12.45pm and when he checked on the CCTV monitor in the wheelhouse, he could see Mr Vareiro was in the water.

He manoeuvred the 24-metres trawler astern to get back to Mr Vareiro and some of the crew had thrown life rings towards Mr Vareiro but he was making no effort to grab them so another crew member, Anton Cortotobai jumped into the sea and managed to get him back to the boat.

Mr Flannery said Mr Vareiro did not appear to be conscious and the crew began CPR on him while they also gave him oxygen but after 40 minutes of CPR, they were advised over the radio by a doctor at Cork University Hospital that it was unlikely there was anything else they could do for him.

Questioned by barrister, David McGrath BL for Mr Vareiro’s family, Mr Flannery said that Mr Vareiro was wearing a helmet and a life jacket on deck, but he didn’t see the helmet on him in the water and while he was wearing the life jacket in the water, it was deflated.

He said that the life jacket was one that he had brought from another boat, and he wrongly assumed that it was in working order and not in need of service, but it later transpired on examination by safety experts following the accident that the air bladder part had suffered a small puncture.

Mr Flannery said he and his crew had gone over the accident a thousand times, and they were satisfied that Mr Vareiro didn’t hit his head on the boat, but he may have hit his head on a cable. “Mr Vareiro did nothing wrong – I don’t want any blame going on him,” he said.

HSA Inspector, David Barry said that from his examination he believed it was most likely that the puncture to the air bladder was caused by Mr Vareiro coming in contact, while in the water, with the nylon coated steel ropes of the net which contain sharp protruding barbs due to wear and tear.

However, Mr Barry said if Mr Vareiro had been wearing a safety harness while attaching the nets to the winches, he would not have fallen overboard and died and while there was some risk of the safety harness getting entangled in machinery, the risk was minimal when machinery was stopped.

Capt Neil Forde, a Nautical Surveyor of the Marine Survey Office agreed Mr Vareiro would not have fallen overboard if he was wearing a safety harness, but he believed that there was a greater risk of injury or death from the harness getting caught in moving machinery than from falling overboard.

The jury had earlier heard evidence that Mr Vareiro had died from acute respiratory failure due to drowning and returned a verdict of death by occupational accident in keeping with the medical evidence.

Coroner for West Kerry, Helen Lucey described the incident as a terrible tragedy.

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