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Maritime lawyer Michael Kingston has questioned why there has been no inquest date has been set into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas.

As The Sunday Independent reports, Mr Kingston said it was" shocking” that almost six years after Ms Lucas’s death, no inquest has taken place yet.

Ms Lucas (41), a librarian, mother of two, and advanced coxswain with Doolin Coast Guard in Co Clare, died off Kilkee on September 12th, 2016.

She had offered to help out the neighbouring Coast Guard Kilkee unit in a search for a missing man, and died after the unit’s rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capsized in a shallow surf zone.

Two other crew members on board the RIB, who were also thrown into the sea, survived.

As Ms Lucas was pronounced dead in hospital in Limerick, responsibility for her inquest is with the Limerick coroner’s office.

Earlier this month, an inquest into the deaths of four air crew in the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 crash resumed, following publication of the final Air Accident Investigation Unit report last November.

In Ms Lucas’s case, two separate investigations were completed some time ago into the circumstances surrounding her death.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report was published in December 2018.

Maritime lawyer Michael Kingston Maritime lawyer Michael Kingston

Two years ago Ms Lucas’s husband, Bernard Lucas, was informed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that no criminal charges would be brought after a separate investigation by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The MCIB report was critical of the Irish Coast Guard’s safety management system, and catalogued a number of systems and equipment failures in relation to the Kilkee Coast Guard unit.

However, Mr Lucas said that he “very disappointed” that the published MCIB report had failed to address questions over equipment his wife was wearing, and both he and members of the Kilkee Coast Guard unit queried the location given in the report.

Mr Kingston has also criticised the MCIB report into Ms Lucas’s death, and has called for a re-investigation.

Read more in The Sunday Independent here

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Valentia Coast Guard is coordinating assistance for a fishing vessel which is on fire off the southwest coast.

The British-registered vessel Piedras with a crew of 11 onboard was reported to be taking in water and had lost power approximately 60 miles southwest of Mizen Head, Co Cork earlier this morning.

The Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 115, was immediately tasked to the scene as was an Air Corps Casa maritime patrol aircraft, while the Naval Vessel LÉ Samuel Beckett also steamed to the area.

"Shortly after raising the alert the crew of 11 decided to abandon the vessel and transferred to another fishing vessel, FV Armaven," the Irish Coast Guard said.

"No injuries were reported. The casualty vessel is reported to be on fire and the situation is being monitored by Rescue 115," it said.

" A second Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 was placed on standby at Cork airport," the Irish Coast Guard said in an update at midday.

Weather conditions in the area are described as "favourable", the Irish Coast Guard said.

The vessel sank in the area where it was initially reported to be in difficulty early on Wednesday afternoon. 

The Naval Service patrols hip LÉ Samuel Beckett remained on scene to monitor the situation. 

The Irish Guard said the Armaven was en route to Castletownbere with the 11 crew it rescued from the Piedras earlier this morning.

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Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton said the Government is "absolutely committed" to maintaining a search and rescue base at Waterford when she paid tribute to CHC Ireland air crew for the rescue of seven fishermen off the south-west coast last year.

Winchman Sarah Courtney received a CHC “Excellence Service” award from Irish Coast Guard acting director Eugene Clonan for her role in the saving seven fishermen from the Ellie Ádhamh 70 nautical miles west of Bantry Bay near Bull Rock on March 27th, 2021.

Winchman Sarah Courtney pictured with Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton, TD.Winchman Sarah Courtney pictured with Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton, TD. Photo: David Clynch

Ms Courtney, from Bishopstown, Co Cork, has already received a silver medal in last year’s national bravery awards, and her colleagues Ronan Flanagan and Adrian O’Hara, from CHC Waterford base, and Aaron Hyland, from CHC Shannon base, were awarded certificates of bravery.

The event last Friday also marked 20 years of CHC Ireland providing helicopter search and rescue services for the Irish Coast Guard from Waterford.

Pilots Ed Shivnen and Neville Murphy pictured with Adrian O'Hara from the Irish Coast Guard, Ray Leahy from the Dara Fitzpatrick Run and Winchman Sarah CourtneyPilots Ed Shivnen and Neville Murphy pictured with Adrian O'Hara from the Irish Coast Guard, Ray Leahy from the Dara Fitzpatrick Run and Winchman Sarah Courtney Photo David Clynch

The Irish Coast Guard’s Waterford helicopter search and rescue base was initiated as a daytime service run by the Air Corps from July 1998, and was upgraded to a 24-hour base from July 1st, 1999.

On the base’s first night mission, all four Air Corps crew on board Rescue 111 – Capt Dave O’Flaherty, Capt Mick Baker, and winch crew Sgt Paddy Mooney and Cpl Niall Byrne - lost their lives when their Dauphin crashed off Tramore on return from a rescue mission.

The late CHC Ireland pilot Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, who died in the Rescue 116 helicopter crash off north Mayo in March 2017, was one of the early senior pilots to work at Waterford after the contract was awarded to the private company.

"We are a team and none of us could do the job we do without all of us working together"

At the presentation to Ms Courtney last week, Robert Tatten of CHC Ireland praised the commitment of CHC crews “to ongoing and continuous training to fine-tune their already immense skills”.

“CHC are proud to play a small part in the greater service provided by the Irish Coast Guard to the people of Ireland,” Mr Tatten said.

“We only get to 20 years in Waterford because of a full team approach, not just us in CHC Ireland but all of those who interact and support us, to name just a few, the Irish Coast Guard, RNLI, Mountain Rescue, Simtech (our training partner), Irish Aviation Authority, An Garda Síochána and all other emergency services,” he said.

Ms Courtney stated “ that she was accepting the award on behalf of all the crew who took part in the mission”.

Winchman Sarah Courtney, the recipient of a 2021 National Bravery Award, who was presented with the CHC Excellence Service Award at Waterford Airport, pictured with Dermot Molloy and Keith Carolan, both from CHC Ireland. The event took place to recognise 20 years of CHC Ireland providing Helicopter Search and Rescue services on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard out of Waterford. - David ClynchWinchman Sarah Courtney pictured with Dermot Molloy and Keith Carolan, both from CHC Ireland Photo: David Clynch

“We are a team and none of us could do the job we do without all of us working together. I was only enabled to carry out the rescue because of the commitment and professionalism of all the guys on board Rescue 117 that day,” she said.

Waterford Airport managing director Aidan Power said that “over the years it has been a matter of great pride to all of us in Waterford Airport that Rescue 117 has been based here”.

“The operation and crews are now part of the fabric of Waterford, and the rescue helicopter is a reassuring sight for the people of the south-east,” Mr Power said.

Acting Irish Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan (acting) presenting the CHC Excellence Service Award to Sarah Courtney. The bog oak sculpture is by Brendan CollumActing Irish Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan (acting) presenting the CHC Excellence Service Award to Sarah Courtney. The bog oak sculpture is by Brendan Collum

In her speech, Ms Naughton said that “at a gathering like this, it would be remiss of me not to recall the loss of R116 in March 2017”.

“I know how devastating it has been for you all to lose colleagues in such a tragic way. The families of Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy and Ciaran Smith are often in my thoughts as I work alongside the Coast Guard,”she said.

“In July 1999 this area experienced a similar helicopter accident when the four crew of Air Corps Rescue 111 lost their lives on the dunes off Tramore,”Ms Naughton said. “Today we also remember Mick Baker, Paddy Mooney, Dave O’Flaherty and Niall Byrne.” 

“On any given year, CHC Ireland conduct approximately 850 flights on behalf of the Coast Guard,”she continued.

“Government recognises the value of this service, and last July decided that on conclusion of the current contract a new contract should be put in place following an open tendering competition,”she said.

“This procurement process is well underway. It is intended that the contract will include a fixed wing aircraft, thereby enhancing the resilience of the service, enabling the Coast Guard to deliver on its two primary roles of search and rescue and pollution / ship casualty monitoring,”Ms Naughton said. 

From left to right, Rescue 117 senior crewman Neil McAdam, winchman Sarah Courtney and Robert Tatten CHC IrelandFrom left to right, Rescue 117 senior crewman Neil McAdam, winchman Sarah Courtney and Robert Tatten CHC Ireland

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The Irish Coast Guard is leading a “large-scale maritime exercise” off the Donegal coast today (Wednesday).

The exercise, called “Blue Hills”, will test major incident plans, it says.

It will also focus on the operational capability and co-ordination of the relevant authorities for a major maritime search and rescue incident, the Irish Coast Guard says.

Agencies involved will include Donegal County Council, the Health Service Executive, Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade, Naval Service, Air Corps, RNLI and others.

The exercise will be conducted in the proximity of Donegal Bay and include both live and virtual participation, it says.

“There will be no disruption to services during this exercise,” it says.

A planned exercise to test drift and tidal modelling software in Galway Bay on Tuesday was deferred due to a resources issue.

The exercise, which aims to simulate an overdue paddleboarder and swimmer, has been rescheduled to a later date.

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A planned exercise to simulate searching for a missing paddleboarder in Galway Bay has been rescheduled to a later date.

The simulated mission involving Irish Coast Guard helicopters and shore units, the RNLI and the Marine Institute was due to take place today, but has been deferred until resources permit.

The aim is to test modelling programmes used by both the Irish Coast Guard and Marine Institute to track drifting objects and pinpoint search areas.

A training exercise has been devised by Valentia Coast Guard which will involve launching a paddleboard with a 60-litre tank - filled to match the weight of a person on board.

A marker buoy simulating a swimmer will also be let out to drift to sea.

After the “paddleboarder” and “swimmer” are reported as “overdue”, a “Securité” alert message will be broadcast.

RNLI and Irish Coast Guard units will be tasked and given areas to search – based on the SARMAP  system which can predict movement of drifting survivors and Marine Institute tidal modelling.

The SARMAP system was used successfully when the Rambler 100 capsized off the Cork coast while competing in the 2011 Fastnet Yacht Race.

Paddleboards were not configured into existing systems when the alert was raised over paddleboarders Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn on August 12th, 2020.

The two women were using inflatable, rather than rigid boards, and had set out from Furbo beach for a short spin. A north-easterly wind them over 17 nautical miles from their original location at Furbo.

They were located clinging to a crab pot marker buoy south by Claddagh father and son fishermen Patrick and Morgan Oliver.

The Galway RNLI inshore lifeboat was not far behind when the two women were located, as the search area had moved further west towards the islands.

The training exercise will be co-ordinated by Valentia Coast Guard and will take place when resources allow.

The Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard Rescue 115 helicopter has been asked to participate, along with the RNLI Aran islands and Galway lifeboats, Costello Bay Coast Guard and Doolin Coast Guard.

  •  This story was updated on May 17 2022 following the deferment of the training exercise
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On 13 March 2017, the Rescue 116 crew of Capt. Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt. Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith took off from Dublin airport just after 11 p.m. for a medical evacuation off the west coast of Ireland. The first indication of disaster came when the crew failed to answer a radio call at 12.46 a.m. Shortly after 2 am on 14 March, sister helicopter Rescue 118 spotted a casualty and debris in the water. There would be no survivors from R116, and extensive searches failed to locate the bodies of two of the four crew.

The crash occurred just six months after the loss of experienced Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas, from Doolin Coast Guard in Co. Clare, and eighteen years after the loss of four Air Corps crew who were returning from a night rescue in thick fog off the south-east coast.

In Search and Rescue, author Lorna Siggins exposes the shocking systemic flaws that led to these tragic deaths, but also looks at successful rescues where, despite all the odds, the courage and dedication of members of the Irish Coast Guard, Air Corps, RNLI, fishing crew and the volunteers who work with them have saved countless lives.

Paperback • €16.95 | £14.99. 336 pages. Preview here. On Sale Now on this link here

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Over five years after the fatal Rescue 116 helicopter crash off the north Mayo coast, the inquest is due to resume into the deaths of the four Irish Coast Guard air crew.

Dates of June 1st to 3rd have been set by the North Mayo coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald for the inquest which will be held in Belmullet civic centre.

Families of the four crew - Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith – are expected to attend or be represented at the three-day hearing.

The crash occurred in the early hours of March 14th, 2017 when the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter collided with Blackrock island, 13 km west of the Mullet peninsula, while approaching Blacksod lighthouse to refuel.

The Dublin-based crew had been asked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter which had been tasked for a medical evacuation 141 nautical miles west of Eagle Island. The bodies of the two winch crew have not been found.

It is expected that CHC Ireland, employer of the four air crew, will be represented at the resumed inquest, along with officials from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), the Garda and Irish Coast Guard.

The 350- page final report by AAIU identified "serious and important weaknesses" in management of risk mitigation by CHC Ireland, which holds the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract.

It also identified "confusion at State level" regarding responsibility for oversight of search and rescue operations in Ireland.

The AAIU report highlighted how the Irish Aviation Authority believed the Irish Coast Guard to be responsible for search and rescue oversight, when the Irish Coast Guard did not have this expertise.

The coroner’s office confirmed that the recent publication of the AAIU’s final report – delayed by a year due to a request by CHC Ireland for a review - had allowed the inquest to reconvene.

A preliminary inquest was held on April 12th, 2018 to issue death certificates for all four crew, and was then adjourned.

At the preliminary hearing, AAIU chief inspector Jurgen Whyte said that “everything that could be done was done” to find the two missing crew.

He said the search was “very challenging”, and the helicopter could not have come down in a more difficult location.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Katie Hannon show last year, Ms Fitzpatrick’s father John said the inquest into the deaths of the crew members would give “finality” and would “mean an awful lot” to the families.

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In the lead up to the Easter bank holiday weekend, the Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland have issued a joint water safety appeal and are asking people to take some basic precautions to stay safe when they visit the coast or participate in water activities, be it coastal or inland.

The organisations also extended a warm welcome to new residents and visitors to the island, many of whom may not be familiar with tides and Irish sea conditions and encourage them to seek local advice before engaging in any water or coastal activities. See also www.watersafety.ie/ukraine

Water temperatures are still very cold at this time of year and Cold Water Shock can affect everyone. To avoid this, people should acclimatise to the water slowly to get used to the cold. The Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland advise everyone intending to take part in any water-based activity or coastal walks to make sure they check in advance what they should do to keep safe.

If heading out on the water or visiting the coast:

  • Always check the weather and tides
  • Carry a reliable means of raising the alarm (i.e., phone or VHF radio)
  • Tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back
  • Wear a suitable Personal Flotation Device on the water
  • Watch out for incoming tides to avoid getting cut off

If you are swimming:

  • Water temperatures are still cold at this time of the year, consider wearing a wetsuit to stay warm
  • Acclimatise slowly
  • Wear a bright swimming cap and consider a tow float to increase your visibility
  • Never swim alone and always ensure that your activity is being monitored by a colleague

Irish Coast Guard Operations Manager Micheál O’Toole said, ‘many people will take the opportunity of the Easter long weekend to visit the coast and take part in coastal or water-based activity. Having some basic water safety knowledge in advance could make an enormous difference and even save a life. People need to be mindful that the water is very cold at this time of year, and it is easy to be caught out by tides.’

‘We extend a special welcome to members of the Ukrainian community, and we are mindful that they may be unfamiliar with Irish tides and local currents. To that end we would encourage the wider public to be mindful of this risk and be alert to people recreating in unsuitable areas, especially in areas that can become isolated with changing tidal conditions.

RNLI Water Safety Lead, Kevin Rahill added: ‘By taking a few simple steps, everyone can reduce the risk of an accident in or near the water. If you fall in unexpectedly, remember to ‘Float to Live’ – lie on your back and spread your arms and legs, gently moving them to keep afloat. Keep floating until you feel your breath coming back before calling for help or swimming ashore if nearby.’

‘For visitors and people new to our shores, the RNLI have a range of translated safety resources in many languages which are available to download.’ https://rnli.org/safety/multi-lingual-resources

Water Safety Ireland’s Acting CEO, Roger Sweeney, cautions that it is better to be safe than sorry: “Easter is a time when many people enjoy their first swim of the year, but Lifeguards have not yet started the patrols that rescue hundreds every season. Swim with others and keep it short, pay attention to local authority signs, and help to keep Ukrainians in your community safe by prompting them to the translated advice at www.watersafety.ie/ukraine.

If you see somebody in trouble on the water or along the coast, or think they are in trouble; Dial 112 or use VHF radio CH 16 and ask for the Coast Guard.

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Crosshaven Coast Guard unit received a call on Saturday afternoon to investigate a boat aground near Drakes Pool in Cork Harbour.

It turned out the boat was actually on its own mooring but had gone aground 'due to astronomically low tides at the moment', according to the Coastguard.

Crosshaven Coast Guard remind readers "if you see something unusual or someone in trouble or think they maybe then don’t hesitate to call 999/112 and ask for the Irish Coast Guard it could save a life!"

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Musician and Doolin Coast Guard volunteer Davy Spillane has settled High Court proceedings pursued against the Minister for Transport and the Irish Coast Guard.

The case arose after the death of Spillane’s Doolin Coast Guard colleague and friend Caitriona Lucas in September 2016.

The settlement has been welcomed by the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers’ Representative Association (ICGVRA) which says it highlights “serious issues” relating to the Irish Coast Guard which “the Government is refusing to face”.

Spillane, who was an advanced coxswain with 20 years’ experience with the Doolin Coast Guard, has declined to comment on the settlement.

Spillane was tasked by Doolin Coast Guard to respond after the neighbouring Kilkee Coast Guard unit’s rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capsized on September 12th, 2016, during a sea search for a missing man.

Ms Lucas, one of Doolin’s most experienced volunteers, had travelled earlier that day by road to Kilkee to assist in the search.

She was in a RIB with two Kilkee volunteers when the vessel capsized in a shallow surf zone and all three were thrown into the water and lost their helmets.

The other two crew were rescued, while Ms Lucas, who was recorded in drone footage holding on to the port section of the RIB but being repeatedly washed off by waves, did not survive.

A postmortem identified a trauma to the side of Ms Lucas’s head at a point where it should have been protected by her helmet. Her lifejacket was also not inflated.

A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) identified a catalogue of safety defects and lack of regulatory compliance, and criticised the Irish Coast Guard for failing to have an effective safety management system in place.

A separate Health and Safety Authority investigation resulted in a file being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which decided no criminal charges should be brought.

The Irish Coast Guard defended its safety-management system at the time.

Legal actions were subsequently filed by a number of Coast Guard volunteers with both Doolin and Kilkee relating to safety and management issues. A case taken by Caitriona’s husband, Bernard, was settled last year,

Volunteers with both the Doolin and Kilkee units claimed that there was no adequate “debrief” after Ms Lucas’s death.

During a survival at sea exercise organised off Doolin pier shortly after the incident, Spillane reported that his drysuit started filling with water. His neckseal subsequently separated from his drysuit.

He made a statement to the safety officer that the personal protection equipment, as in helmet, drysuit and lifejacket, were not fit for purpose.

ICGVRA spokesman Jim Griffin paid tribute to Spillane for taking the case.

The group has sought a meeting with the Minister for Transport and hopes to address the Oireachtas transport committee shortly.

Asked to comment on the outcome of Spillane’s proceedings, the State Claims Agency said it “does not comment on the detail of individual cases”.

The Department of Transport, which also comments on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard, said that “Doolin Coast Guard Unit has been re-constituted on an interim basis to ensure rescue services are available”, and appointments would begin in April for a more “permanent” unit.

The department said that the Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) is “the officially recognised representative body for volunteers in service”, and it declined to respond specifically to the criticisms levelled by the ICGVRA.

“The Coast Guard is currently addressing the suite of recommendations within the Mulvey report in respect of CUAG,” it said.

This refers to a recent report by Kieran Mulvey who was appointed to mediate after six resignations from Doolin Coast Guard last year.

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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.