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Coastal Communities Beat Coast Guard Management & the Economic Value of Sailing

30th November 2012
Coastal Communities Beat Coast Guard Management & the Economic Value of Sailing

#islandnation – This week on THIS ISLAND NATION .... coastal communities beat Coast Guard management for the second time; when will the Government realise the economic value of sailing; sea snails have an acidic message; shipping emotion; seafood is doing well..


For the second time management of the Irish Coast Guard has been defeated in their attempts to close the coastal radio stations at Malin Head and on Valentia Island. Sense has prevailed and safety of life at sea has been recognised as more important than bureaucracy. It is a victory for the good sense of coastal communities and recognition of the vital importance of local knowledge when life is in danger at sea as well as the importance of routine day-to-day operations of maritime radio.

The decision is commonsense as well as recognising that whoever closed the stations could face serious criticism should it result in controversy as a result of any subsequent loss of life at sea.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar in announcing his decision, appeared to be disgruntled about the manner in which the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications questioned Coast Guard management at a hearing about the issue. In his Dail statement he said the reviews into the Coast Guard services are ongoing, but he wanted to assure local communities that the three coastguard centres would not be closed. He said he was disappointed at the treatment of officials from his department at the Joint Committee meeting and claimed that there were a small number of members whose contribution was deeply unfair and unjustified.

It was this Committee which revealed several serious issues about the way in which the Fisher Report about the Coast Guard was handled, matters which still require an answer into the transparency and independence of examinations of State services.

It was revealed at that Oireachtas hearing that the original draft of the report had recommended what the Minister has now approved, that both Valentia and Malin remain open, but this was changed subsequently. By whose pressure and for what reason has not been disclosed. Who interfered with the consultants' report at that stage and sought to change it? Where is transparency and accountability to the public interest in that regard? Neither has Coast Guard management explained why the recommended upgrading of the stations was delayed after the last failed attempt to close them in 2009?

The battle to protect Malin and Valentia does not in any way reflect on the work or value placed of the Dublin radio base, but the correct decision is that there should be three stations working together for the benefit of saving life at sea and maritime radio communications in the widest sense. Coast Guard management was, once again, wrong in what it tried to do and should now learn its lesson. There was even an original proposal this time to replace Malin and Valentia with a station in the Minister's own constituency, at Blanchardstown. It would be difficult for any politician to defend such a proposal.

I have seen the complete Fisher Report and the responses of Coast Guard management to it, from which there are questions remaining to be answered.

It is now time for senior management to concentrate on responding by developing the service in the best interests of safety of life at sea and stop trying to close Malin and Valentia coastal radio stations.


Through the windows of the Cork Port company's board room I could see the branches of the Christmas trees swaying in the wind as the weather brought in the first signs of an impending gale, with rain driving down on a ship moored across the river. The words of Fr. Christy Fitzgerald came across the room: "In this weather who would want to be a seafarer? Who would like to be on a ship in tough weather conditions like today, out at sea, where crews are dependent entirely on themselves? It is a calling that many people would not do. There are families today who will be thinking about the conditions in which their family members may be at sea somewhere in the oceans of the world. We need seafarers, let us remember them.

Then, across the room came the singing of the congregation and the words: "Eternal Father strong to save, whose arm hath bound the restless waves, o hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea."

I was at the annual ecumenical remembrance service for seafarers organised in Cork by the Southern Branch of the Maritime Institute of Ireland, an emotional, evocative occasion as the names of those who had died in the past year on the southern coastline were remembered. It was the biggest turn-out I have seen at the ceremony in recent years, with all maritime organisations, professional and leisure, represented. I thought of those who in Dublin at the same time would be holding the national ceremony to remember seafarers at the memorial on City Quay.

We should always remember and appreciate seafarers.


The enormous economic benefit which a well-developed national sailing approach could yield for Ireland is shown in the report about this year's Volvo Race in Galway. Compiled by the J.E.Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway it has shown that the event was worth €60.5 million to the economy. Over 500,000 visitors attended events during the race festival from June 30 to July 8, of which 16 per cent came from outside Ireland. The organisers and Galway City invested €7.6m. so the overall nett benefit was considerable.

"The magnitude of the event in terms of the economy of the Galway area was exceptional," said Dr.Patrick Collins of NUI Galway's Whitaker Institute. "Direct expenditure was €35.5 million, with indirect spend of €25m."

There was discussion after the previous Volvo visit in 2009 about what legacy it would leave behind for prolonged benefit. Now there is a second confirmation of the value of sailing as an economic earner. Yet our Government fails to adequately support such commitment.


While Irish weather is chilling the bones and wetting the bodies four Cork sailors are in much better weather, taking part in the ARC, the annual transatlantic rally from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay at Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. Royal Cork YC member Aidan Heffernan has the crew of Joleen Cronin, Denis Nagle and John Hanley aboard his Dehler 36 Indulgence which he races in Cork Harbour and along the south coast. There are 200 boats altogether taking part in the 2,700-nautical mile event which is regarded as "a friendly race for cruising yachts" and can take between 14 and 21 days to complete, depending upon weather conditions.


Despite the recession the Irish seafood sector is doing reasonably well, "holding its own" I am told from the industry. Sales reached an estimated €749 million last year. For the first half of this year exports are up 20 per cent in value to €253m. compared with the first half of last year. The latest development is that Breizon Ltd., an Irish seafood company in Connemara has established a joint venture company with two French partners based in Lorient. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) has assisted the development of the new venture which will involve an agreement with Keem Bay Fish Products to supply seafood (shellfish from Breizon and smoked seafood from Keem) to meet increasing demand in the French market. The joint operation will deliver fresh Irish seafood direct to retailers, restaurants and fishmongers. The French partners are Argis Galacsea and Les Viviers de Keroman in Lorient.

BIM Chief Executive Jason Whooley said there are 180 registered seafood companies now with processing facilities in Ireland. While many Irish operations are small-scale with turnovers between €3m. and €10m., European competitors have a turn-over five times that. Lack of scale is the biggest factor regarded as limiting the profitability of the Irish seafood sector. BIM says it is working with the industry to support business development.

Environment  – ACIDIC SEAS ALERT

The shells of some marine snails are dissolving as the seas around Antarctica become more acidic. That is according to a study published in the journal, Nature Geoscience. As CO2 levels in the air increase from the burning of fossil fuels, so the seas are becoming more acidic.


There are around 195 bottlenose dolphins permanently on the East Coast of Scotland who regularly feed in the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation where they are a tourist attraction. Scientists studying them have concluded that the small and isolated nature of their population makes them prone to being disturbed so organisations have joined forces to understand the impact of boat movements.

A computer model has been developed by the University of Aberdeen to predict effects on dolphins from planned offshore renewables facilities at Nigg and Whiteness and associated vessel movements. Tour boats and other marine traffic have also been assessed and the results show that boats which behave predictably are less likely to have an adverse effect on dolphins compared to those which follow the animals. The results were published this week by the Scottish Natural Heritage organisation.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TomMacSweeney

Published in Island Nation Team

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