A Drogheda Naval Hero is Remembered 20 Years On

At around 21.00 hours on the night of the 30th of January 1990 a MAYDAY call was received by Valentia Coast Radio Station and by the Naval Vessel LE Deirdre as she lay at anchor in Lawrence’ Cove, Bere Island. A Spanish fishing vessel, Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza) with 16 souls onboard had gone aground on rocks near Roancarrigmore Light, north east of Bere Island in Bantry Bay during a severe gale and was sinking.

A “MAYDAY” call on Marine VHF radio is used when mariners require immediate assistance to prevent loss of life. The Naval Vessel LE 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.

With no helicopter support available for a minimum of 2 hours and with the LE Deirdre unable to manoeuvre close enough to the Gardtoza the decision was taken to launch the ships boarding boat, a Gemini craft with a powerful outboard engine. Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, a native of Drogheda along with Able Seaman Paul Kellett from Dublin volunteered to crew the Gemini. As the regular boarding crew for the Gemini both men were very experienced in operating the boat.

Despite the severe weather the crew of the Deirdre successfully launched the Gemini craft. Leading Seaman Quinn took charge as boat coxswain and he and Able Seaman Kellett proceeded towards the Gardtoza. As they manoeuvred close to the fishing vessel, the appalling conditions in the vicinity of the Gardtoza made it apparent that a boarding and therefore a rescue by boat would not be possible.

Leading Seaman Quinn manoeuvred the Gemini to return to the LE Deirdre, just as a wind and wave combination capsized the Gemini throwing both crewmen into the sea. AB Kellett was washed ashore on Rocks near Dereen cove and despite the severe weather conditions and his own exhaustion managed to clamber over the sharp rocks as they tore the flesh from his feet until he reached the main road where patrolling Gardaí picked him up.

An RAF Sea King Helicopter subsequently rescued the 16-man crew of the Gardtoza

Despite an extensive search by the LE Deirdre assisted by an RAF Sea King helicopter, the merchant vessels Shell Technician, Shell Marketer and the fishing vessel Ben Chourn, there was no sign of Leading Seaman Quinn. The following morning an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, based in Shannon, joined the search. At 08.00hrs on the 31st it recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene. LS Quinn was only 27 at the time of his death and the survivor AB Kellet was 21.

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. Able Seaman Kellett was also awarded both medals in equal recognition of his bravery and dedication to duty.

In 1992 two years after the tragedy, the Dublin Branch of the Irish Naval Association was renamed Leading Seaman Michel Quinn 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, the Naval Service Reserve, An Slua Muirí, the Marine service and the Maritime Inscription.