A Drogheda Naval Hero is Remembered 22 Years On

On the night of Tuesday 30th of January 1990 the Naval Vessel L.E. Deirdre lay at anchor in the safety of Lawrence Cove, between Bere Island and the mainland. At about 2100 hrs the fishing vessel Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza), predominately of Spanish crew, went aground on rocks off Roancarrigmore Light, north east of Bere Island in Bantry Bay. Her Mayday was picked up by Valentia Coastal Radio Station and by L.E. Deirdre.

MAYDAY is the highest precedence distress call and is used when immediate assistance is required if life is to be saved. L.E. Deirdre weighed anchor immediately and headed into the severe gale towards the reported position of the vessel in distress. She also assumed the duties of On Scene Commander for the rescue operation.

At the best of times the east entrance to Lawrence’s Cove poses a tricky navigational problem to even the most skilled of watchkeepers. On the night in question the thousand tone displacement L.E. Deirdre with over fifteen feet below the waterline, manoeuvred for position close to the stricken vessel. The inadequate navigation marks, numerous shoal areas, the rocky outcrops and the severe gale force conditions all combined to make a cocktail of disaster for any ship that dared approach to close to the grounded vessel. The Ship’s crew under the Command of the Captain, Lt Cdr Noel Goulding had their skills tested as the single propeller Offshore Patrol Vessel, more suited to the open waters off the west coast, jostled for a position close enough to light up the area. Nevertheless, even from her closest point of approach, L.E. Deirdre’s powerful searchlight beams were soaked up by the driving rain and sea spray.

With no helicopter support available for a minimum of two hours it was clear that decisive steps had to be taken. With lives in immediate danger positive action was required and the ship’s Captain ordered the Gemini to be swung out and prepared for launching. By dispatching the Gemini, L.E. Deirdre would be able to ascertain the lie of the trawler, which at this stage, according to the incessant pleas for help on marine VHF, was sinking rapidly. Water was reported as approaching the bridge area of the Gardotza.

With its shallow draft the Gemini could approach close to the stricken trawler and yet with its powerful engine it could quickly clear danger. The Gemini had been in service with the Naval Service for over fifteen years. The conditions on the night were not excessive for operating the craft. With close to ten thousand boardings to its credit, the craft had been extensively tested in what are probably the most hostile areas in the Northern Hemisphere.

Despite the severe weather the crew of the L.E. Deirdre successfully launched the Gemini craft. Leading Seaman Quinn took charge as boat coxswain and he and Able Seaman Kellett proceeded towards the Gardtoza. Kitted out in their survival suits and lifejackets they quickly moved with instructions to investigate the position of the trawler and report back. Able Seaman Paul Kellett, as bowman, carried a VHF radio for ships communications. As they maneuvered close to the fishing vessel, the appalling conditions in the vicinity of the trawler made it apparent that a boarding and therefore a rescue by boat would not be possible.

Leading Seaman Quinn maneuvered the Gemini to return to the L.E. Deirdre, just as a wind and wave combination capsized the Gemini throwing both crewmen into the sea. The two seamen called to each other and tried to swim in each other’s direction. Able Seaman Kellett inflated his lifejacket fully and removed his seaboots. In the darkness they were separated.

L.E. Deirdre realizing that contact had been lost went to her limits to close to the last known position of the Gemini. Flares illuminated the area but nobody could be seen. Able Seaman Kellett was swept onto rocks close to the Gardtoza and no sooner washed off again. Tired and disorientated he struggled for survival only to find the very craft that had thrown them into the sea, was now there to act as a life raft to safety. Having been swept into Doreen Cove, he made it ashore, clambering across the sharp rocks which tore the flesh off his feet. Driven by the urgency to report his safety he made it to the main road, west of Adrigole, where a patrolling Gardai picked him up. Tragically, throughout his ordeal his radio had received the futile search reports of the various parties combing the sea area. The transmission switch had been damaged in the upturn and was unserviceable. Relieved that one crew member was safe L.E. Deirdre was now joined by an RAF Sea King Helicopter. With the merchant vessels, Shell Technician and Shell Marketer and the fishing vessel Ben Chourn, the area was fine combed as well as the severe conditions would allow. As the hours went by the L.E. Deirdre’s crew feared for their shipmate and fellow serviceman. The RAF Sea King Helicopter subsequently rescued the 16 man crew of the Gardtoza. During the night an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, based in Shannon, was dispatched by MRCC to relieve the RAF aircraft and join the search operation. At 08.00hrs on the 31st it recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene.

Leading Seaman Michael Quinn is the only casualty that the Service has suffered in its numerous Search and Rescue Operations in over seventy years.

In recognition of his unselfish bravery and devotion to duty, The Minister for Defence made a posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Medal to Leading Seaman Quinn. The King of Spain also made a posthumous award of the Spanish Cross of Naval Merit in recognition of his brave attempts to rescue the Spanish crew.

Distinguished Service Medal Citation - Leading Seaman Michael Quinn

For displaying leadership, devotion to duty and courage to the extent of losing his own life, in that he volunteered for and undertook a hazardous mission under adverse conditions to locate and reconnoitre a stricken vessel in order that a rescue could be effected on the crew of the F.V. GARDTOZA, grounded on the RoanCarrigbeg Rocks, Co. Cork on the night of 30 January 1990. Leading Seaman Michael Quinn is posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with Merit

In 1992 two years after the tragedy, the Dublin Branch of the Irish Naval Association was renamed Leading Seaman Michel Quinn DSM Branch in memory of the young serviceman who so tragically lost his life. . The Irish Naval Association is made up of former and serving members of the Naval Service, Naval Service Reserve and An Slua Muiri.

Naval Association Web Pages