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Two junior ministers have turned a sod on the construction site of a new Coast Guard station at Bunmahon, Co Waterford.

A sum of 5.3 million euro is being invested in the new station, according to Minister of State with responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard Hildegarde Naughton.

She was joined by Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Patrick O’Donovan.

It will take about a year to complete.

The new station will provide better facilities for the 18 volunteers who operate from the Bunmahon unit, including vehicle storage, shower and changing facilities, an operations/training room, kitchen and office space.The new station will provide better facilities for the 18 volunteers who operate from the Bunmahon unit, including vehicle storage, shower and changing facilities, an operations/training room, kitchen and office space

Ms Naughton paid tribute to the commitment and dedication of almost 1,000 volunteers with the Coast Guard, which she described second to none.

She also paid tribute to the members of the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford area.

“The unit has shoreline and cliff rescue capabilities and works closely with its flank units at Ardmore and Tramore,” she said.

Minister Naughton said the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford areaMinister Naughton said the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford area

“The Waterford team here has responded to many search and cliff rescue emergencies down through the years, both maritime and inland, in rural communities and in the larger townlands of Tramore and Dungarvan,”she said, noting the unit had also assisted the Garda Siochana, National Ambulance Service and Fire Service.

“The OPW is delighted to assist in the design and construction of this new purpose-built premises in Bunmahon for the Irish Coast Guard Service,” Mr O’Donovan said.

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The Irish Coast Guard Maritime Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) at Malin Head has reported the safe rescue of the trapped man from the cave at Downpatrick Head Co Mayo.

The man has been transferred to Sligo University Hospital by the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 118 from Sligo and is said to be well and in good spirits.

As Afloat reported earlier, a multi-agency rescue operation had been awaiting low tide this afternoon (Sunday 18 September) to retrieve the man trapped in a sea cave at Downpatrick Head since the previous evening.

Rescuers work to retrieve a man trapped in a cave at Downpatrick in County MayoRescuers work to retrieve a man trapped in a cave at Downpatrick in County Mayo

According to The Irish Times, the man in his 40s had been exploring the cave with a woman on Saturday (17 September) when they became trapped by the rising tide and were swept off a ledge by a wave surge.

The Irish Cave Rescue Organisation rescued the individual, supported by the Coast Guard Units from Killala/Ballyglass/Killybegs/Achill, the Ballyglass RNLI Lifeboat, National Ambulance Service, Civil Defence, County Fire Service and An Gardai Siochana, including the Gardai Water Unit. With a particular mention of the support of the local community at Downpatrick and North Mayo more generally.

The individual has been transferred to Sligo University Hospital by the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 118 from Sligo and is said to be well and in good spirits.The individual has been transferred to Sligo University Hospital by the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 118 from Sligo and is said to be well and in good spirits

In a statement, the Coast Guard said tonight it would like to take this opportunity to recognise the professionalism and dedication of those involved in the successful operation and in particular, the team from the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation.

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The Irish Coast Guard, which can trace its roots to 1822, is celebrating 200 years of lifesaving service. The milestone was marked at an event today attended by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State with specific responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, Hildegarde Naughton TD, at Greenore Coast Guard Station, County Louth. A special Commemorative Proof of Service Wreck Token will be awarded to 950 volunteers nationwide in recognition of their valued service.

Staff and volunteers from 44 Coast Guard units across Ireland provide a national maritime search and rescue service and a maritime casualty and pollution response service. Together, they respond to almost 3,000 call outs and save on average 400 lives a year. Of the call outs, approximately half are maritime incidents, a quarter are inland search and rescue and another quarter involve assisting the National Ambulance Service.

Today the Irish Coast Guard uses state of the art technology to support its work. However, over the decades, its volunteers have had to rely on horse drawn carriages to carry equipment, climbing cliffs on ladders and line-firing rockets to reach grounded vessels, for example, in their rescue efforts. The 200th anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the legacy and rich history of this crucial rescue service.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton with specific responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard in Carlingford as they mark 200 years of the Lifesaving service with a Coastguard Helicopter flypastMinister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton with specific responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard as they mark 200 years of the Lifesaving service with a Coastguard Helicopter flypast at at Greenore Coast Guard Station on Carlingford Lough

Modern volunteer Coast Guard units provide a combination of Rescue Boat, Cliff Rescue, Shoreline Search Capabilities, and Emergency Community Support in conjunction with the other emergency services. Development in the use of Small Unmanned Aircraft systems (Drones) provide Coast Guard units with an enhanced search capability while Coast Guard helicopters provide 24/7 services out of four bases (Dublin, Waterford, Shannon, Sligo).

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD said: “The Irish Coast Guard Service has always been, and remains, a critical part of Ireland’s emergency response system. Last year, the Coast Guard reported a 12% increase in the overall number of incidents coordinated during 2021. Hardly a day goes by without hearing of the extraordinary work carried out bravely and selflessly by its staff and volunteers. Whether it’s the rescue of someone from the sea, a cliff or mountain rescue, the provision of maritime safety broadcasts, ship casualty operations or the investigation of pollution reports, they provide a 24/7 service for, and on behalf of, the Irish people.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD as he meets with Kevin Doherty along with members of the Greenore Coast Guard Station, County Louth from left Owen Connolly , Denise Fegan and Eddie Marmion as they mark 200 years of the Lifesaving serviceMinister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD as he meets with Kevin Doherty along with members of the Greenore Coast Guard Station, County Louth from left Owen Connolly , Denise Fegan and Eddie Marmion as they mark 200 years of the Lifesaving service

I am delighted to mark this 200-year celebration and to reflect on its rich history by recognising the tireless work of Irish Coast Guard staff and volunteers - both those currently in duty and those who have served before them, and their families right across the country.”

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton TD said: “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 for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. This week I am continuing my visits to our coast guard units across the country. The dedication and commitment towards protecting people along our coastline and inland waters is palpable to say the least. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home at the dead of night, or on Christmas Day, to assist a person 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 am also pleased to announce the publication earlier this week of the second annual report on the National Search and Rescue Plan, submitted by the National Search and Rescue (SAR) Committee. The Report shows a lot of evidence of inter-agency co-operation which is made possible by the close bonds forged locally between the services and inter-agency training and exercising.”

About the Irish Coast Guard

The Coast Guard’s role is to provide maritime search and rescue, maritime casualty, and pollution response service. The Coast Guard is a Division within the Irish Maritime Directorate (IMD) of the Department of Transport.

History of the Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast, which can trace its roots to 1822 after the passing of the Coast Guard Act in London. Initially, the Coast Guard took on revenue protection and coastal defence duties and acted as a reserve force for the Royal Navy. By 1860, there were approximately 200 Coast Guard stations around the country however, many of these were attacked and destroyed during the War of Independence and Civil War. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, the Coast Guard along with its 109 remaining stations were handed to the Irish Free State and remained as the Coast Life Saving Service (CLSS).

In 1990, the Irish Marine Emergency Service (IMES) was established and in February 2000, this became ‘Garda Costa na hÉireann’ or ‘Irish Coast Guard’ (IRCG).

Commemorative Proof of Service Wreck Token

The Commemorative Proof of Service wreck token is based on original Proof of Service wreck tokens which were issued to all Coast Guard stations since 1822. When the Coast Guard members or members of the public attended to a rescue, the Officer in Charge would give all who attended the rescue a Proof of Service wreck token. Anyone who was issued with a token would then hand it back to the Inspector when he next visited the Coast Guard station as proof of his/her attendance at a rescue. He/she would then be paid the appropriate amount in exchange for the token.

These Proof of Service wreck tokens were maintained at each Coast Guard station. Two types were cast over the 200-year period and while both had a clipper on one side, the British version (1822-1922) had the Crown on the other side while the Irish version (post 1922) had the harp. Very few of these original Proof of Service wreck tokens have survived however they are an important part of the 200-year history of our Coast Guard service on this island.

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The Mayo offshore island of Inishturk is to secure a new helipad for use by Irish Coast Guard air-sea rescue helicopters.

Funding of over €357,000 for the construction of the helipad has been approved by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys.

She says the Department of Rural and Community Development investment will “provide a vital resource for the Irish Coastguard to access the island in an emergency”.

Inishturk lies in outer Clew Bay, some nine miles or about 15km off the Mayo coast between Inishbofin and Clare Island.

It has a population of between 51 and 60 people, and made international headlines in 2016 when it was reported to have offered a refuge to US citizens who did not vote for Donald Trump as president.

Former island development officer Mary Catherine Heanue subsequently said she never actually issued the appeal to north Americans, which was attributed to her in news reports, but said the response on social media did benefit the island’s tourism.

"We would never actually turn anyone away, not even Mr Trump," Ms Heanue, who runs Ocean View guesthouse with her husband Bill, said at the time.

The island has a mixed fishing and farming economy and daily ferry crossings from Roonagh, Co Mayo.

Ms Humphreys said the funding she had approved would cover up to 90% of the cost of the helipad project, with Mayo County Council providing the balance.

She announced an air service contract worth €4.9 million for the Aran islands and over €2 million in funding for road projects on the islands off Donegal.

“This helipad will be a vital resource to the Irish Coastguard, providing them with a safe place to land on the island itself,” she said.

“Making our islands more sustainable is a key priority of mine as minister,” she said.

“I have no doubt that this particular funding will come as welcome news for Inishturk, and I want to also commend the Irish Coast Guard for the vital work they do,”she said.

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Valentia Coast Guard Station is reported to have been offline for up to 12 hours on Sunday night last due to staffing issues. The Department of Transport says the responsibilities at the time were shared between Malin Head and Dublin centres and that this arrangement had been pre-planned due to staff availability issues.

The matter has been raised by Fianna Fail West Cork TD., Christopher O’Sullivan, who said that all Coast Guard stations should be fully staffed and he was seeking to have the matter looked into.

There are understood to be vacancies for Watch Officers at all three Coast Guard stations. Six are said to have been recruited and more will be advertised.

THE ECHO Cork has more on the story today here, reporting that there are understood to be vacancies for Watch Officers at all three Coast Guard stations. Six are said to have been recruited and more will be advertised.

It also reports that staff members at Valentia have been covering extra shifts because of the shortage of personnel.

THE ECHO Cork leads on the Valentia Coastguard staffing storyTHE ECHO Cork leads on the Valentia Coastguard staffing story

Published in Coastguard

Dun Laoghaire Harbour might see more of the R116 Coastguard Helicopter after this month's major inter-agency marine and coastal agency emergency services display at the Dublin Bay Port.

Held in the Ferry Marshalling Area of the Harbour on June 16th, the display was described as a 'non-public event'.

Arising out of the pow-wow, the County Dublin site has been highlighted as one with good connectivity and landing options for the coastguard helicopter.  This is especially the case concerning Ambulance transfer to nearby St. Vincent's Hospital at Elmpark in Dublin 4, according to one Afloat source.

The briefing dealt with emergency landing zones, evacuation procedures, Ambulance access points, Major incident facilities and Port Secure Zones. 

The operational briefing had static displays and equipment capabilities with the Irish Coast Guard's Dun Laoghaire Unit, RNLI Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat Station, Irish Coast Guard - Rescue Helicopter 116 and DLRCOCO staff from Dun Laoghaire Harbour and Dun Laoghaire Marina. 

An Incident Command Unit, Mobile units and equipment, an All-terrain vehicle, Dun Laoghaire's Trent class All-Weather lifeboat, D-Class Inshore lifeboat, and R116 were displayed.

As a weekend of aquatic activity approaches, Water Safety Ireland, the Coast Guard and the RNLI have issued a joint appeal calling for caution at waterways nationwide. The appeal aims to reduce summer drownings and comes as figures released for National Water Safety Awareness Week (June 13-19) show that 79 people drowned in 2021. A total of 1,108 drowned in the last ten years, an average of nine every month.

'79 people drowned in 2021, three more than in 2020 and although this is well below the annual average of 111 drownings every year over the last decade, it is still a tragic unnecessary loss of life and a significant public health issue’, commented Roger Sweeney, Acting CEO at Water Safety Ireland. Drownings can happen quickly and silently, and warmer weather sometimes lulls people into a false sense of security, however waterways are still quite cool which affects the muscles needed to swim safely back to shore. Swim at lifeguarded waterways or in designated bathing areas that are known to be safe and have ringbuoys present. Stay within your depth, supervise children closely and never use inflatable toys on open water as you can be swept from shore in an instant.

‘Alcohol is a factor in one third of drownings,’ added Sweeney, ‘and should never be consumed before any aquatic activity as it can lead to someone overestimating their ability and underestimating the risks. Mark Water Safety Awareness Week by having a water safety conversation with loved ones. Make them aware about dangerous rip currents and how quickly an incoming tide can cut walkers off from shore. The Covid-19 pandemic increased the level of interest in aquatic activities and consequently a busy period ensued for the Irish Coast Guard, the RNLI, the Community Rescue Boats and for the Lifeguards trained and assessed by Water Safety Ireland and employed by local authorities. This weekend, let the Lifeguards be there for you.”

Micheál O’Toole, Irish Coast Guard Operations Manager said: ‘This week affords us an excellent opportunity to focus on coastal and water safety and to promote awareness of the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft. It is a valuable source of information, advice and best practice operational guidance for owners, masters, operators and users of a range of pleasure and recreational craft operating in Irish coastal and inland waters.’ See; www.safetyonthewater.gov.ie

Kevin Rahill, RNLI Water Safety Lead, added: ‘With the weather improving and more people going in or on the water, it is important to take some basic steps to stay safe while having fun. If you are going swimming, try to avoid going alone and make sure you are visible at all times by wearing a brightly coloured swim cap. Use a tow float and carry a suitable means of communication such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch and a whistle. If you get into trouble in the water, Float to Live: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety.

‘For those going afloat, wear a lifejacket or personal floatation device and carry a reliable means of raising the alarm such as a VHF radio or mobile phone. Go prepared by checking the weather forecast and tide times, tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back, and importantly, what to do if you do not arrive back on time. Should you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble, dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard.’

Advice to keep safe:

  • Swim at Lifeguarded waterways: or at designated bathing areas that are traditionally known to be safe and have ringbuoys present.
  • Swim within your depth – stay within your depth.
  • Watch out for submerged hidden hazards and unexpected depths - get in feet first.
  • Supervise children closely and never use inflatable toys in open water.
  • When walking the shoreline be aware that incoming tides can quickly lead to stranding.
  • Wear a lifejacket when boating or angling and make sure that it is fitted with a crotch strap.
  • When boating, carry a VHF radio, and as a backup a fully charged mobile phone in a waterproof pouch.
  • If you see someone in difficulty or think they are in trouble, use Marine VHF CH 16 or call 112/ 999 and ask for the Coast Guard.
Published in Water Safety

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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Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.

 

The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

©Afloat 2020

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