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Search and rescue air crew and staff at the Irish Coast Guard’s four helicopter bases are concerned about their future employment when Bristow takes over the new contract.

As The Sunday Independent reports, staff in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo are seeking assurances from the Department of Transport that employment will be transferred when the Bristow group takes over in 2025.

Last week, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan confirmed that Bristow Ireland Ltd is the preferred bidder for the next ten-year search and rescue (SAR) contract, costing 670 million euro ex VAT.

Over 140 people have been employed by CHC Ireland at the four bases over the past 20 years of the current contract, which cost 60 million euro annually.

Bristow Ireland Ltd is a subsidiary of the Bristow group which runs search and rescue services for Britain, the Netherlands and the Falkland Islands.

For the first time, provision of a fixed wing aircraft is also included in the Irish contract, which provides for the Air Corps to take over this element of the service after five years, according to Ryan.

Senator Gerard Craughwell, who has welcomed the awarding of the contract to Bristow, has called on the company to make a statement that it will “start considering a transfer of employment”.

Forsa, which represents air crew, said it would prefer not to comment at this stage, while trade union Unite regional officer Rob Kelly said it was “confident that the TUPE process will proceed smoothly, and Unite members look forward to continuing to provide this vital service".

CHC Ireland lost four of its air crew when the Dublin-based Sikorsky S-92 crashed at Blackrock island in north Mayo on March 14th, 2017, claiming the lives of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, and winch crew Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby.

The Department of Transport said that “it is expected that as part of their staffing strategy, the new contractor will undertake a consultation and engagement process with the employees of the current contractor, and the recognised trade unions”.

“As the procurement process has now entered the required legal “standstill period”, the department is not in a position to comment further,” a spokesperson said.

Bristow Ireland said “looks forward to integrating our significant global experience and capabilities into this critical public service” and would work with the department.

Read more in The Sunday Independent here

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The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG), a Division of the Department of Transport, currently has a vacancy for a Health and Safety Officer.

Reporting directly to the Head of the Safety and Quality Compliance Section of the Irish Coast Guard, the Health and Safety Officer’s main aim is to prevent accidents, injuries, and work related-related illnesses in the IRCG.

The successful candidate will have a qualification at minimum Level 7 on the National Framework of Qualifications and a postgraduate qualification in Health and Safety with at least two years relevant experience in a safety role.

They must also have experience in actively managing and promoting engagement with all aspects of a safety management system within an organisation.

For more information and how to apply, visit:

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 3 pm on Thursday, 4th May 2023.

We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity and encourage applications under all nine grounds of the Employment Equality Act.

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Irish Coast Guard watch officers are being trained by a private company in search and rescue tasking.

ASG Aviation Training recently developed and delivered its first recurrent training programme for watch officers engaged in search and rescue helicopter tasking.

As Flying in Ireland reports, ASG began to work closely with the Irish Coast guard almost five years ago in developing a bespoke search and rescue tasking and co-ordination training course.

Since the initial course, a number of specialised refresher courses have been given to participants who have had previous training.

Visiting course participants have also joined from the Irish Aviation Authority, the British Coast Guard and the Garda Air Support Unit, the company says.

Operational Risk Management, Emergency Response Planning, Meteorology, Navigation and map-reading, Flight Planning, Air Law, Communications, SAR operating procedures, Flight Time Limitations, Human Factors and Crew Resource Management (CRM) are among the topics covered.

Decision-making on tasking aircraft was one of the issues that arose in the investigations into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash which claimed the lives of four air crew off north Mayo in March 2017.

Read more here

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The Irish Coast Guard has been certified as a Great Place to Work (GPTW) for the second time in a row, after the organisation implemented several key reforms in recent years.

The Coast Guard first partnered with the Great Place to Work Institute in 2019 to develop and implement a programme to improve satisfaction and engagement levels among staff and volunteers.

The accreditation process was based on anonymous feedback to the ‘Trust Index & Culture Assessment’, made available to over 1,000 volunteers and staff within the Coast Guard. The Department of Transport division first achieved the Certification in 2021.

The five themes within the survey include Credibility, Respect and Fairness - which measure trust in management - and Pride and Camaraderie, which assess members’ feelings about their role and their colleagues.

The results of the 2022 survey showed an overall satisfaction score of 75% across all questions, a 5% improvement since the first survey in 2019.

In addition to receiving the GPTW award, the Coast Guard also recently achieved accreditation to ISO 45001 by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).

ISO 45001 is an international standard for management systems of occupational health and safety at work.

The Coast Guard has been updating and renewing its Safety Management Systems (SMS) over the past number of years as part of its ongoing reform programme.

Benefits associated with achievement of ISO 45001 certification include fewer work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths, improvement of workplace morale, safety and performance, physical and mental well-being and improvement of managerial oversight and assurance.

Speaking on these two achievements, Minister of State with Special Responsibility for the Coast Guard, Jack Chambers TD said: “In 2022, the Irish Coast Guard celebrated its 200th anniversary and I am delighted that it has now achieved certification as a Great Place to Work – a very special year for the Coast Guard.

“These achievements demonstrate the Coast Guard’s commitment to supporting all staff - full-time and volunteers and providing a safe environment in what can be challenging circumstances.”

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The Irish Coast Guard Rescue 115 search and rescue helicopter team has sought to enlighten people on one frequently asked question about its flying techniques.

A video posted on its Facebook page aims to explain why the helicopter lifts off the ground, rises to ten feet and drops down – a little like a yo-yo on a string- before climbing for departure.

The video demonstrates what the air crew describe as the “standard bounce into ground effect”.

It was recorded as the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter took off from the Aran island of Inis Meáín for University Hospital, Galway.

“This is where you see us hover the helicopter, then drop her low before applying power and departing,” the post says.

“ What happens is rotorwash at the lower height, coupled with the cantered blades, gives extra lift,”the crew says.

“On the way up, a certain power is applied and the aircraft will lift vertically to a height that allows safe flight away from obstacles,”it says.

“ In the event of an engine failure before forward flight, the aircraft would land back on the pad/ground safely, and if the same happened when forward flight is achieved the aircraft would safely fly away,” it explains.

“This is used in helicopter sites that are near big buildings/confined areas for safe operations to the aircraft, and the people or buildings around the site,”it says.

View the video below

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Today, Friday 30th December, the Irish Coast Guard publishes an end-of-year summary of statistics for the past year. In 2022, the Irish Coast Guard (to date) coordinated responses to 2699 incidents which is the second-highest number in 5 years. August was the busiest month with a 10% increase on the corresponding period in 2021. The incident count covers the range of services provided by the Coast Guard. These services are maritime search and rescue, maritime casualty and pollution preparedness and response. The Coast Guard also assisted An Garda Síochána in open country search and mountain rescue. Coast Guard also assists the National Ambulance Service in providing an Air Ambulance and Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) both inland and to the island communities.

2022 in figures

  • August was the busiest month, with a 10% increase compared to 2021
  • The 44 Coast Guard Units were mobilised on 1141 separate occasions
  • Coast Guard Helicopters conducted 829 missions
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats were launched on 910 occasions
  • Community inshore rescue service was launched on 96 occasions
  • Critical assistance was provided to 559 persons

Minister of State with special responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, Jack Chambers TD said: “As we reach the end of another busy year for the Coast Guard, I want to thank all of the volunteers and staff for their professionalism and commitment. I want to particularly recognise the work of the Watch Officers at Rescue Coordination Centres in Malin, Valentia and MRCC Dublin, and Coast Guard support staff who to their great credit maintained an uninterrupted service throughout the Covid challenge. I look forward to meeting with the staff and volunteers of the Coast Guard to see this work at first hand in the coming weeks.”

The capacity to Raise the Alarm and Stay Afloat, are central to the prevention of drownings at sea and on inland waterways. The Coast Guard’s core safety message Stay Afloat – Stay in Touch; highlights the importance of never engaging in any commercial or recreational boating activity without wearing a Life Jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD), coupled with a capacity to raise the alarm via means such as a VHF radio, Personal Locator Beacon or EPIRB. This should be supported by informing shore-based colleagues of intended activity and anticipated return time. Mobile phones should not be considered as a suitable substitute or be relied upon as the only means of emergency communication at sea.

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The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG), a Division of the Department of Transport, has vacancies for Watch Officers at its three Marine Rescue Coordination Centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co. Donegal and Valentia, Co. Kerry. The IRCG provides a nationwide maritime emergency service as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

Watch Officers are responsible for watch-keeping on the emergency communications systems, act as Search and Rescue Mission Coordinators, Marine Alert and Notification Officers, as well as tasking and co-ordination of Coast Guard aviation operations. They process marine communication traffic, monitor vessel traffic separation, and coordinate responses to, maritime casualty and pollution incidents and Coast Guard support for the other emergency services.

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 3 pm on Thursday, 24th November 2022.

For more information and how to apply, visit:

We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity and encourage applications under all nine grounds of the Employment Equality Act.

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Galway based Minister with special responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, Hildegarde Naughton TD, today visited Cleggan Coast Guard Unit to meet with the local volunteer team and hear first-hand about their life saving work.

Cleggan is a shore-based Coast Guard Unit with 17 volunteers and has dual functions with shore search and drone roles. The team at Cleggan was the first in the country to be trained and equipped with drone capabilities. Work continues within the team to keep on top of advancing drone technologies. The Cleggan Unit has also led the way for Units nationwide to respond to a wide range of challenging and life-threatening incidents, including searches for missing persons with the use of drones.

Minister Naughton’s visit coincides with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Irish Coast Guard this year. The Irish Coast Guard, which can trace its roots back to 1822, includes 44 Coast Guard units across Ireland that provide a national maritime search and rescue service and a maritime casualty and pollution response service. Volunteers and full-time staff respond to almost 3,000 callouts and save on average, 400 lives a year.

Minister Naughton commented on this important milestone: “I had the pleasure of presenting the 30-year Long Service Medal to Michael Murray, the Officer in Charge at Cleggan, in September at the celebration event of the 200th anniversary of the Coast Guard. Michael’s exemplary service is an example of the dedication and commitment of all in our Coast Guard to protect people along our coastline and inland waters.

“The Irish Coast Guard is one of the State’s Principal Emergency Services, and their work is both challenging and varied. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of staff and volunteers here in Galway, and nationwide for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home in the dead of night, and even on Christmas Day, to assist those in difficulty, a fact that demonstrates the personal sacrifice that is made by our volunteers 365 days of the year. Without our volunteers, we simply would not have this lifesaving service. I would also like to thank their families and the wider community, without whose support this service could not be provided."

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“They were our friends, our was just hard to comprehend that we were trying to rescue the rescuers themselves...”

These are some of the comments made by members of a Mayo community, recorded by filmmaker Fergus Sweeney, for a documentary he has made in the aftermath of the crash of Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116.

Sweeney, nephew of Blacksod lighthouse keeper Vincent Sweeney, found himself at the heart of the initial response when the Sikorsky S-92 was reported missing in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

All four crew, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch team Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby, died after the helicopter clipped Blackrock island while en route into Blacksod to refuel.

“Meitheal - The Story of a Search” is an independent film by cameraman and filmmaker Fergus Sweeney. The documentary tells the story of how the small rural community of Erris on the Irish Westcoast found themselves at the heart of a 42 day search for the crew of Irish Coastguard helicopter Rescue 116.“Meitheal - The Story of a Search” is an independent film by cameraman and filmmaker Fergus Sweeney. The documentary tells the story of how the small rural community of Erris on the Irish Westcoast found themselves at the heart of a 42 day search for the crew of Irish Coastguard helicopter Rescue 116.

A search that would lead the community on a journey of grief, emotion and Inspiration.

The bodies of Capt Fitzpatrick and Capt Duffy were recovered, but the winch crew are still missing.

In the documentary, community members say their search for the two men continues.

Sweeney records the impact of the crash on the locality, and interviews local Coast Guard members, including Michael Hurst and those who provided daily sustenance during the 40-day effort in the community hall at Eachléim.

The helicopter had been tasked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter in a medical evacuation in the Atlantic.

The "probable cause" of the crash was identified by the Air Accident Investigation Unit as a combination of the helicopter's altitude, poor weather and the crew being unaware of a 282ft obstacle on the flight path of a pre-programmed route they were using.

A further 12 contributory causes were identified by the AAIU in the 350-page report.

They included "serious and important" weaknesses with how CHC Ireland managed route testing and mitigation; "confusion” at State level on responsibility for oversight of search and rescue operations; the positioning of a route waypoint almost "coincident" with Blackrock Island; and "crew members' likely hours of wakefulness at the time of the accident".

Meitheal: The Story of a Search is due to be broadcast on RTÉ 1 television on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10.30 pm.

Meitheal: The Story of a Search is due to be broadcast on RTÉ 1 television on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10.30 pm.

Published in Maritime TV
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A Coast Guard radio officer has defended his decision to request a medical evacuation for an injured fisherman off the west coast on the night that the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter crashed with the loss of four lives.

All four crew- Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith – died when their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed at Blackrock island in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

The Dublin-based helicopter had been asked to provide “top cover” or communications for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter which was tasked to airlift a fisherman with an injured thumb from a vessel 140 km off the Mayo coast.

At a resumed inquest in Belmullet, Co Mayo, coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald was told by Malin Head Coast Guard radio office Ian Scott that the casualty was bleeding out, in severe pain and had a section of his thumb amputated.

As RTÉ News reports, Mr Scott outlined how he had tried to secure top cover by the Air Corps and that he also "tried to get a Nimrod from the UK" but this was not available.

Rescue 116 was then asked to provide top cover and flew from Dublin. It was approaching Blacksod to refuel when it crashed at Blackrock island, west of Blacksod.

Mr Scott told the inquest that a doctor he had consulted did not object to his decision to take the injured crewman ashore.

He said he used his judgement, accrued over 42 years, and said “in my opinion the man needed off the vessel".

Mr Scott told the inquest he would make the same decision today.

Garda Supt Gary Walsh read a deposition from the captain of the Kings Cross fishing vessel, William Buchan, describing how crewman John James Strachan sustained a severed thumb when he was hauling in nets on the night of March 13th, when the vessel was 140 nautical miles west of Eagle Island.

Mr Buchan recalled hauling at about 9.15 pm on March 13th, 2017 after five or six hours on blue whiting. Mr Strachan’s hand got caught, and Mr Buchan managed to get his hand out of his glove but half of his thumb had been crushed and was inside the glove. He said they put the thumb top in the ship’s freezer.

Cork University emergency registrar Dr Mai Nguyen, who was consulted about the injury on the night of the call-out, told the inquest she felt the decision to task had been made before she was called. She described the injury as “minor”, and said she would not have sent the Irish Cost Guard as there was no hope of re-attaching the severed thumb and they were far from the coast. 

A recording of calls between the Kings Cross vessel, Malin Coast Guard and Dr Nguyen confirmed this at the inquest.

After Dr Nguyen advised skipper, William Buchan on how to handle the casualty, she asked the radio officer if a “medevac” was being carried out and he said it was.

The inquest also heard that in the minutes before the Rescue 116 helicopter was due to land at Blacksod lighthouse helipad to refuel, visibility "dropped fast".

Lightkeeper Vincent Sweeney described how in the minutes before Rescue 116 was due to land to refuel, visibility "dropped fast", to the point that "you'd hardly see your arm in front of you".

The bodies of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy were recovered after the crash, but winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith are still missing in spite of extensive searches.

The inquest was formally opened in April 2018 but was adjourned - after a brief sitting and issue of death certificates - to allow for completion of the Air Accident Investigation Unit report and Garda investigations.

The Garda investigation was completed in April 2019 and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but no prosecutions were recommended.

There were 42 recommendations in the 350-page Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report - 19 applying to the air crew’s employer, CHC Ireland, which holds the Irish Coast Guard contract for four helicopter search and rescue bases.

The AAIU report found the “probable” cause of the crash was a combination of poor weather, the helicopter’s altitude and the crew being unaware of a 282 ft obstacle – as in Blackrock island – on a pre-programmed route guide to Blacksod.

Read the RTÉ News report here

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