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Authorities over-reacted when regatta boats overturned - report

25th May 2009

The launch of a major emergency plan when a handful of boats capsized during a junior regatta race was over the top, a Marine Casualty Investigation Board report claims today (MCIB). The report revealed gardaí, the local authority and health chiefs overreacted when a sudden squall overturned 25 yachts in the Irish Sea just off Dun Laoghaire harbour. Initial reports on July 5 2007 feared more than 100 youngsters were being swept out to sea after being thrown into the water. But the MCIB found the teenage competitors were experienced sailors and that there were enough rescue vessels on the water to handle the multiple capsizes.“The activation of the national emergency plans appears to have been excessive and an over-reaction due to lack of understanding of the situation,” it added.

 

A gale warning and small craft warning had been in place when 141 competitors sailing 115 boats took part in the Royal St George Junior International Class Regatta. The wind suddenly increased from 10 to 12 knots to 25 to 28 knots with gusts up to 30 knots, but it was during a second squall 15 minutes later that the boats overturned. The race officer notified the RNLI and Irish Coast Guard and a full rescue operation was mounted with the Naval ship LE Aoife, local boats and a Coast Guard helicopter. Gardaí, ambulances, paramedics, and fire engines from across Leinster also rushed to Dun Laoghaire pier when the emergency plan was activated by An Garda Síochána, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s emergency services, and the Health Service Executive Hospitals across the capital were also put on standby and the public warned only to attend for emergencies.

The MCIB said it was prudent of race organisers to request shore-side assistance as some of the boats capsized. However, it criticised the confusion over the numbers of boats involved – which ranged from 30 up to 91 when it was actually 115 – and over how many youngsters and rescuers safely made it ashore. The report also said although some of the 115 boats racing did capsize, up to 90 sailed ashore without assistance.

Of the remaining 25, sailors on eight of the boats were in panic while other vessels were damaged and needed assistance by support boats already on the water. A total of 16 children were taken to hospital, but all were discharged later that evening. After the incident the Irish Sailing Association set up a working group to identify any improvements in policies, procedures and guidelines during future events. They included better communication with gardaí, the coast guard and media, training race organisers to deal with emergencies, and having an emergency plan.

The MCIB also recommended yacht clubs holding major sailing events should have measures to record the exact number of boats and competitors involved, and to record survivors when brought ashore.

The full MCIB report is here

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