By Patrick Markey
A sailor was lost at sea after falling overboard from the Irish naval vessel the L.E. Eithne as the ship made its way back from Independence Day celebrations in New York.
The ship had left Boston after a six-week tour of duty as part of the OpSail 2000 tall ships celebration in the United States when sailor Robert Dean fell overboard, according to Defense Force officials.
An able mechanic on the ship, Dean disappeared last Wednesday, July 21, just before he was due to go on watch in the engine room in the early morning hours, said Kieran McDade, a Defense Forces spokesman.
"No one knows about the circumstances. He was due to go on duty at 4 a.m. He was last seen about 10 minutes before that," McDade said.
Lt.-Cmdr. Hugh Tully, spokesman at Naval Headquarters in Haulbowline in Cork, said it was presumed that Dean, who joined the service a year ago and was on his first voyage abroad, had fallen overboard and an inquiry would be routine.
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"No one will probably ever know what happened," Tully said. "He may have gone up on deck to get some fresh air before he took up duty and was disorientated because he had just woken and fell overboard."
Tully said weather conditions in the area had been and the sea temperature was 17 degrees C. That would have given an estimated survival time of 18 hours.
The ship, was about 900 miles away from Ireland when the incident occurred. Canadian coast guard in Halifax Nova Scotia, launched a full-scale search, but called their aircraft off within 24 hours.
Dean’s family met with the chip’s crew for a brief service when the vessel docked in Haulbowline Naval Base in Cork over the weekend. The 20-year-old Cork City native had been in the naval service for about a year.
An 81-man crew Maritime patrol vessel, the L.E. Eithne had been part of a huge flotilla of ships from all over the world berthed in the Hudson River off Manhattan. The July 4 event had been touted as the world’s largest gathering of ships, with huge fireworks displays and parties on many of the vessels.
It was only the second time a seaman has been lost from an operational naval ship since the service was founded.
Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, 27, from Drogheda, died in 1990 during an attempt to rescue a Spanish fishing vessel that ran aground in a storm in Bantry Bay.