The Oilean an Oir fishing trawler
A fisherman who risked, and lost, his own life trying to save a fellow crew member in Killybegs was "a true hero", an inquest has heard.
James Joyce (27) of Inis Mór, Galway, and Joel Alama (46), a native of the Philippines, who was also living on Inis Mór, were both crew members of the Oilean an Oir, a trawler owned and skippered by James's uncle Stephen Joyce, and operating out of Rossaveal, Co. Galway.
On Monday, August 24th, 2015, they were among crew members getting the boat ready to go back to sea after it had been repainted and its engine overhauled in Killybegs.
At 1.30pm, Joel Alama raised the alarm that something was wrong, the inquest in Donegal town courthouse heard yesterday.
'Like rotten eggs'
When Peter Joyce, another crew member, went to investigate, he saw the two men unconscious at the foot of a ladder in the bottom of the hold. There was a foul odour "like rotten eggs" and he suspected gas, so he did not attempt to enter the hold.
Firemen with breathing apparatus recovered the two men who were unresponsive.
Fire crews also took readings of the air in the tank and found toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide as well as elevated levels of ammonia.
The two men were treated by ambulance crews and brought to Letterkenny University Hospital. James Joyce died at 10pm that night and Joel Alama passed away the following Friday morning.
Dr Gerry O'Dowd, pathologist at LUH, conducted the post mortems. He found that James Joyce died of asphyxiation as a result of inhaling toxic gas and that Joel Alama had died of multiple organ failure due to inhaling toxic gas. He explained that the both would have been overcome immediately.
Tom Power Marine Casualties Investigation Board explained that "one small part of the circulation system had not been cleaned out since March, and seawater and fish debris lay dormant there". He said that Mr Joyce "wouldn't have known that was there" and when the refrigeration system was flushed " the water agitated it", releasing the gases. Both men would have been overcome "almost immediately".
Speaking on behalf of the Joyce family, solicitor Paul Horan, an uncle of James, said, "It's hard to convey the devastation" that the family feels. James, he added, "lit up all their lives and the fact that that wonderfully bright and beaming light is gone is truly devastating.”
The late James Joyce
Although James had qualified as a motor mechanic, he loved fishing and the sea, and loved being a crew member "on his uncle Stevie’s Oileann an Oir".
Mr Horan added, "The family earnestly hoped that lessons would be learned and that all necessary safeguards, monitoring equipment, training and protocols would be introduced to prevent similar tragedies in the future."
An emotional Mr Horan also paid tribute to Mr Alama. “The family all feel that this occasion cannot be allowed pass without formally recording their eternal gratitude to Joel Alama, James’s fellow crewman who heroically made the ultimate sacrifice in attempting to rescue James.
“No words will ever convey the depth of their gratitude and all of Joel’s family should be justly proud of him – a true selfless hero.”
Dr McCauley echoed this sentiment, “Mr Alama was probably aware that there was something going on but, at great risk to himself, he went to try to help his friend and colleague. I think it only right that we should acknowledge his brave action.”
Dr McCauley also said it must have been “intolerable” for Peter Joyce to see his brother and a crew member in such distress, but know that he could not help them.
The coroner, Sgt Thomas Mitchell, jury foreman, and others at the inquest conveyed their deepest sympathies to the bereaved families.