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Over seven years after her death off the Clare coast, the inquest into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas resumes today in Kilmallock court, Co Limerick.

The Sunday Independent reports that the full inquest is expected to hear that her helmet and lifejacket still cannot be produced by the Irish Coast Guard, in spite of requests by her family and by representatives of two separate State investigations.

The location of her drysuit is also an issue. Ms Lucas, a 41-year-old librarian and mother of two, died after a Kilkee Coast Guard RIB capsized during a search for a missing man on September 12, 2016.

The highly experienced member of the Doolin Coast Guard had been assisting the neighbouring unit at Kilkee in the search when the capsize occurred. Two others on board the RIB were rescued.

Ms Lucas was the first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to lose her life during a tasking.

Her family say that acquiring her drysuit for independent examination is critical, given reported issues with Irish Coast Guard equipment in recent years. Shortly after her death, a drysuit worn by one of Ms Lucas’s colleagues had filled with water during a training exercise.

It is understood that video footage recorded by a local Civil Defence unit of a rescue attempt in the minutes leading up to her death has been provided to Ms Lucas’s legal team for the first time.

It has been made available for the full inquest, resuming today before Limerick coroner John McNamara at Kilmallock court and is expected to run for a number of days.

Read The Sunday Independent here

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Former Director of the Irish Coast Guard and former Head of the European Mission to Somalia, Chris Reynolds, recently announced his new role as a Team Leader for a maritime security project.

The project will primarily focus on maritime enforcement and the Coast Guard in Malaysia, and Reynolds has been selected to lead the team responsible for its implementation.

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The Department of Transport says it was notified by CHC Ireland about a “safety stand down” at search and rescue (SAR) helicopter bases on Friday.

The department said it is “actively engaged with all stakeholders, including CHC” to “enable the smooth transition” to a new contract.

It was responding to the decision by CHC Ireland aircrew to go “off-line” for an hour at lunchtime yesterday, amid concerns about future employment  when Bristow Ireland takes over the Irish Coast Guard SAR contract.

“Lack of confirmation re continuity of employment, under TUPE Regulations, for CHC staff has led to elevated levels of stress amongst staff and therefore the safety stand down is necessary at this time,” CHC Ireland had said.

The department said it was informed by CHC that “the interruption would be for a maximum of one hour at any base and was intended to enable CHC to conduct staff briefings in relation to the transition from the existing contract to the next generation aviation contract”.

The department said that “established arrangements for such interruptions will apply with regard to response to any incident that might arise”.

“The contract for the next generation Coast Guard contract was awarded to Bristow Helicopters and was signed on August 11th, 2023,” it said.

CHC Ireland is currently pursuing a legal challenge, following the Minister for Transport’s decision to award a new ten-year SAR contract for the Irish Coast Guard to Bristow Ireland.

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Agencies have issued a warning to the public regarding maritime safety during the current warm weather in Ireland.

The Irish Coast Guard, Water Safety Ireland, and the RNLI urge the public to pay attention to personal safety and follow safety guidelines when engaging in water and coastal activities.

Sea temperatures have reached a seasonal high, and maritime agencies are concerned that many people will be tempted to take a late summer swim.

These agencies are especially worried since nine people drown on average every month nationwide. Therefore, they advise the public to be mindful of the following advice during the current spell of warm weather:

  • Never swim alone and ensure that somebody ashore is monitoring your activity.
  • Only swim in areas with which you are familiar.
  • Swim within your depth and stay within your depth.
  • Where possible choose lifeguard protected beaches. Lifeguards will be patrolling blue flag beaches throughout the weekend. If you are swimming elsewhere, swim in areas that are known locally as safe and where there are ringbuoys present for rescues.
  • Ask for local knowledge to determine local hazards and safest areas to swim. Pay attention to any safety signage.
  • Always supervise children closely and never leave them alone near water.
  • Never use inflatable toys in open water as a gentle breeze can quickly bring a person away from shore.
  • Make sure that the water’s edge is shallow shelving so that you can safely enter and exit.
  • The air temperature is warm but open water is cooler than air – avoid extended stays in the water as your muscles will cool, making swimming more difficult.
  • Alcohol is a factor in one third of drownings. Do not mix it with water activities.
  • To escape a rip current, swim parallel to the shore and then swim back ashore at an angle.
  • If you see somebody in trouble in the water: SHOUT – REACH – THROW
  • SHOUT to calm, encourage and orientate them;
  • REACH with anything that prevents you from entering the water (clothing/stick);
  • THROW a ringbuoy or any floating object to them.

If you experience difficulty in the water, FLOAT TO LIVE. Tilt your head back with your ears submerged, relax and try to control your breathing. Move your hands to help you stay afloat.

When boating, always wear a correctly fitting lifejacket or Personal Flotation Device and have to hand a VHF radio and a fully charged mobile phone in a waterproof pouch.

If you see somebody in Trouble in the water or along the coast, or think they are in trouble, dial 112 or use VHF radio Channel 16 and ask for the Coast Guard.

Published in Coastguard

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) is seeking guarantees from Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that pilots and winch operators flying for the Irish Coast Guard will remain in employment once the contract transfers from CHC Ireland to Bristow.

As The Irish Times reports, Ialpa maintains that the EU Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE) rules apply to the contract.

Under these rules, those 85 air and winch crew already working for the State’s search and rescue service should be able to keep their jobs and seniority once the new operator takes over.

Ialpa is part of trade union Fórsa, and its national secretary Katie Morgan, confirmed to the newspaper that the union had also written to Bristow seeking the same assurances.

Bristow has advertised for captains and first officers for the Irish Coast Guard aviation service, which Mr Ryan has signed the 670 million euro contract for from 2025.

As Afloat reported earlier this week, CHC Ireland is continuing to pursue a legal challenge to the validity of the contract.

The Department of Transport said it hopes there will be “an orderly and seamless transfer of operations between both contractors” and said it recognised “the professionalism and dedication of all personnel engaged in the provision of this essential State service”.

Bristow Ireland told the newspaper there was a lengthy lead-in time before the new contract began, and it was seeking expressions of interest in a small number of posts.

Read The Irish Times report here

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Tributes have been paid to Toni (Patricia) Ryan, an experienced scuba diver and founding member of the Howth Harbour Coast Guard unit who has died at the age of 71.

Ryan participated in hundreds of Coast Guard call-outs in the north Dublin Bay area, training in cliff climbing and applying her scuba diving experience to coastal rescues.

As Coast Guard colleague Louis O’Moore said at her funeral, she was a “pivotal figure in the history of the Irish Coast Guard in north Dublin” from the time she joined the Howth unit in 1999, and she played a key role in the unit’s administration.

“Beyond the daily tasks and responsibilities, she was a touchstone for many of us,” O’Moore said, describing how she was regarded as the “mammy of the unit”, providing support, wisdom, encouragement and chat and counsel for those who needed it.

Howth Coast Guard officer in charge Colin Murray, who has also paid tribute to her key role, recalls that she took her camper van out to cliff locations during long searches where it became a hub for cups of tea and sustenance.

Dalkey Scuba divers members Mary Patterson and Aisling O’Connor have clear memories of her active involvement in their club, and how her relaxed approach to life made her a “natural diver” and ideal diving buddy.

“Toni took to diving like a duck to water,” Patterson said.

Toni (Patricia) Ryan was an active member of Dalkey Scuba diversToni (Patricia) Ryan was an active member of Dalkey Scuba divers

“She was a very active member of the club, taking part in the weekly dives around Dalkey island and the Muglins, and coming away on club weekends west, to places like Killary fjord and Kilkee,”she said.

“She was truly a "bubbly character", genuinely upbeat and always smiling. Looking back on it now, she obviously had great support from family and friends...Scuba diving is not an inclusive child-friendly pastime,” she noted.

“She left Dalkey to continue diving nearer to home with Aer Lingus Divers, and, around the same time got herself a campervan,” Patterson said.

“ I would bump into her every couple of years, in Howth, where she was a member of the Coastguard and in various places along the west coast in the campervan, where she would be diving, snorkelling or just hanging out and enjoying herself with her dive club friends,” she said.

“The Coastguard photo of her really captures the essence of Toni: practical, willing to get dug in and ............that smile,”Patterson said.

Dalkey Scuba Divers member Aisling O’Connor said that she had many memorable dives with Ryan on weekends away on the west coast.

“She had a small campervan, and so loved the club weekends,” O’Connor said.

“She was so easygoing, above and below the surface, soaking up nature, which she was passionate about,” O’Connor said.

Among her many rescues with Howth Coast Guard was that of a father and two sons, aged ten and two years respectively, who capsized from their kayak in Baldoyle estuary in windy conditions on the May bank holiday weekend of 2007.

Toni (Patricia) Ryan newspaper article

Toni (Patricia) Ryan newspaper article

Ryan, first coxswain Declan McQuillan and second coxswain Keith Plummer were out training on the Howth Coast Guard rigid inflatable boat (RIB). Due to several sandbanks in the area, the unit had a window of just 20 minutes before bringing all three casualties safely ashore.

Ryan already had many responsibilities when she volunteered for rescue. Her husband, Brendan was killed in a car crash at the age of 32, when her son Ian was six, her daughter Emma was four, and her youngest child, Shane, was just five months old.

The couple, who were childhood sweethearts growing up in Phibsborough, were both motorbike enthusiasts. Her husband ran a motorbike shop in Bray, Co Wicklow for a time, while she commuted to her job in the Bank of Ireland in Cabinteely on a Yamaha twin motorbike.

They moved to Bayside, Sutton, and acquired the camper van to take the young family to road races all over the country.

After she found some of her husband’s diving gear at home shortly after his death, Ryan took up diving with Dalkey Scuba Divers and played tennis with Sutton Lawn and Trackside Tennis clubs, becoming the first ladies singles champion at Trackside that same year.

She travelled to all over the world on scuba diving trips, latterly with Aer Lingus Diving Club. As her son Ian recalled at her funeral, her favourite Irish spot was Inishbofin, Co Galway, due to the welcoming atmosphere at Day’s Hotel.

She bought a second camper van in the 1990s, taking her children angling, and there was nothing she couldn’t fix, according to her daughter Emma, who says her mother once told her she would have loved to study engineering.

Around 2001, she took her own mother, then in her early eighties, and her daughter Emma in a hired camper down the west coast of North America.

Later in life, she studied at the National College of Ireland and took a job in her fifties as clerical officer in the Courts Service, working in the fines office. She volunteered for St Michael’s House service for people with disabilities for many years, and was a volunteer for swimming events at the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003. Her family said this meant so much to her as her younger brother, Paul, had Down Syndrome.

She retired in 2017, and her youngest son, Shane, died that year. Once again, in spite of her grief, she was determined to live her best life. She was extremely close to her eight grandchildren, and encouraged her daughter Emma and her own three children to become involved in watersports through Howth Sea Scouts.

Ryan began spending more time in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, where she took up golf, swam almost every day in the Atlantic, and went to cookery classes and became very involved in the community in the west Kerry village.

The late Toni (Patricia) RyanThe late Toni (Patricia) Ryan

She had a strong faith, and at her funeral, where Margaret Brennan sang, she was blessed with seawater taken from the Irish Sea at Rush by Fr Kit Sheridan of Bayside.

Howth Coast Guard unit members were her pallbearers at the family’s request. Murray, her former officer-in-charge, has paid tribute to “all of the enthusiasm and experience she brought to the unit” and has described her as “irreplaceable”.

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The Department of Transport has announced the signing of a new contract with Bristow Ireland Limited for the next Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) Service and Rescue Aviation Service.

The new contract will run for ten years and will provide a range of essential state services, including Maritime and Inland Search and Rescue, Environmental Monitoring, Helicopter Emergency Medical and Air Ambulance Services.

Under the new contract, Bristow Ireland Limited will operate six helicopters from four dedicated bases in Sligo, Shannon, Waterford, and Dublin Weston Airport.

"The Coast Guard's aviation service will also have fixed-wing aircraft capability"

The Coast Guard's aviation service will also have fixed-wing aircraft capability available on a 24/7 basis to support the delivery of these essential services. Two King Air fixed-wing aircraft based at Shannon Airport will provide support for Coast Guard search and rescue operations and environmental monitoring.

The new IRCG aviation service will be introduced by Bristow Ireland Limited gradually on a phased basis and will be fully operational by July 2025. The contract makes provision for the possibility of the Air Corps assuming responsibility for the fixed-wing element of the service after five years.

The Department and the Irish Coast Guard look forward to working closely with Bristow Ireland Limited as it provides these essential state services under the new aviation service contract. The contract is expected to enhance mission control and communication systems, providing a more efficient and effective service to those in need.

Published in Coastguard

Irish Coast Guard volunteers who were dismissed or left are seeking a meeting with the new management team, which has been charged with conducting a wide-ranging review of the State service.

As The Sunday Independent reports, the review of “all aspects” of the Irish Coast Guard, including “culture, governance, strategy, structure and roles”, has been commissioned by Minister of State for Transport Jack Chambers.

He has charged his department’s new assistant secretary-general Joanna Cullen with “driving” and “delivering” a “transformation programme”, following the review, which would “renew and refresh” the service.

Joanna Cullen, who has been appointed Department of Transport assistant secretary-general with responsibility for the Irish Coast GuardJoanna Cullen, who has been appointed Department of Transport assistant secretary-general with responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard

Micheál O’Toole, who was formerly an Irish Coast Guard operations manager, has been appointed as director to replace acting director Eugene Clonan.

The Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (ICGVRA) says it has welcomed the move, and is seeking an urgent meeting with both O’Toole and Cullen in a spirit of “seeking a resolution”.

The association, representing both serving and former volunteers with the Irish Coast Guard, was formed in Clare in late 2021, following a commemoration for late ICG volunteer Caitriona Lucas who lost her life during a search in September 2016.

The investigation into Ms Lucas’s death was critical of aspects of Irish Coast Guard management.

Coast Guard management weaknesses were also highlighted in the subsequent investigation into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash, which claimed the lives of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby off north Mayo in March 2017.

ICGVRA chair John O’Mahony, who had volunteered for 25 years, says his group involves both serving members, experienced rescue personnel who were dismissed “without adequate notice or recourse to appeal”, and members who resigned. Ms Lucas’s husband Bernard is vice-chair of the group.

Last May, an Oireachtas committee heard that morale among volunteers in the Irish Coast Guard is currently at an "all-time low", in part due to increasing "red tape" and the handling of disciplinary proceedings against members.

Read The Sunday Independent here

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Valentia Coast Guard was alerted by a concerned member of the public yesterday afternoon that a person had fallen into the water near Culoo Rock on the western side of Valentia Island.

The incident occurred at around 4:50pm on the same day. In response, the Coast Guard issued a broadcast to all craft in the area and dispatched the Valentia Lifeboat, Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter R115, and Iveragh Coast Guard Unit to the scene.

Fortunately, the casualty was able to keep afloat until the lifeboat arrived, allowing them to recover the individual safely onboard.

The Irish fishing vessel 'Saveur Du Monde' was also present at the scene of the incident. Subsequently, the R115 helicopter winched the casualty from the Valentia Lifeboat and transferred them to University Hospital Tralee.

Thanks to the swift response and coordinated efforts of the Coast Guard and other units, the individual was rescued and received the necessary medical attention.

This serves as a reminder of the importance of remaining vigilant and informed of emergency services in the area.

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An unpublished Irish Coast Guard report reveals that four volunteers struggled with their safety equipment after a rescue RIB capsized off Inch beach, Co Kerry almost nine years ago.

As The Sunday Independent reports, one crewman on the Dingle Irish Coast Guard RIB who did manage to inflate his lifejacket when thrown into the water found himself “gasping for air”.

He had to “prize the bladders of the lifejacket apart to breath” before he believes he “may have lost consciousness”, the internal report for the Irish Coast Guard says.

The RIB was trying to assist surfers when it capsized on August 25th, 2014, off Inch beach.

All four Dingle Coast Guard volunteers were in the water for about ten minutes, with three making it ashore, and all were airlifted to Tralee General Hospital by the Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter.

The newspaper reports that the Maritime SAR Services Ltd analysis for the Irish Coast Guard on the Dingle incident is central to the subsequent investigation into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas.

As with the RIB on which Ms Lucas was a crew member on September 12th, 2016, the Dingle RIB on August 25th, 2014 was operating in a “surf zone” – contrary to Irish Coast Guard policy - where the vessel was exposed to, and caught by, breaking waves.

There were problems with safety equipment and with communication in both cases.

However, the 2014 incident was not investigated by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB), and the findings of the Irish Coast Guard’s internal report were not widely circulated to its volunteers around the coast.

This factor was highlighted by the MCIB in its inquiry into Ms Lucas’s death.

It has also been raised by maritime lawyer Michael Kingston, who is representing the Lucas family at the resumed preliminary inquest into Ms Lucas’s death which is due to sit in Kilmallock court, Co Limerick on Monday (June 12).

Read The Sunday Independent report here

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Whether you're a boat enthusiast, historian, archaeologist, fisherman, or just taken by the natural beauty of Ireland's waterways, you will find something of interest in our Inland pages on Afloat.ie.

Inland Waterways

Ireland is lucky to have a wealth of river systems and canals crossing the country that, while once vital for transporting goods, are today equally as important for angling, recreational boating and of course tourism.

From the Barrow Navigation to the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal Canal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation, these inland waterways are popular year in, year out for anyone with an interest in rambling; flora and fauna; fishing; sailing; motorboating; canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing; and cruising on narrowboats.

Although most will surely identify Ireland's inland waterways with boating holidays and a peaceful afternoon's angling, many varieties of watersport are increasingly favoured activities. Powerboat and Jetski courses abound, as do opportunities for waterskiing or wakeboarding. For those who don't require engine power, there's canoeing and kayaking, as Ireland's waterways have much to offer both recreational paddlers and those looking for more of a challenge. And when it comes to more sedate activities, there's nothing like going for a walk along a canal or river bank following some of the long-distance Waymarked Ways or Slí na Sláinte paths that criss-cross the country.

Ireland's network of rivers, lakes and canals is maintained by Waterways Ireland, which is one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement in 1999. The body has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways on the island of Ireland, principally for recreational purposes. It also maintains Ireland's loughs, lakes and channels which are sought after for sailing; the network of canal locks and tow paths; as well as any buoys, bridges and harbours along the routes.

Along the Grand and Royal Canals and sections of the Barrow Navigation and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Waterways Ireland is also responsible for angling activities, and charges Inland Fisheries Ireland with carrying out fisheries development, weed management and ensuring water quality.

Brian Goggin's Inland Blog

Giving his personal perspective on Ireland's Inland Waterways from present-day activities to their rich heritage, Brian Goggin tells it like it is with his Inland Blog.

From recognising achievements in management of the waterways to his worries on the costs of getting afloat on Ireland's canals, Goggin always has something important to say.

He also maintains the website Irish Waterways History that serves as a repository for a wealth of historical accounts of the past commercial and social uses alike of Ireland's rivers and canals, which were once the lifeblood of many a rural community.