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People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith has said the next contract for search and rescue aviation services should not be awarded to CHC Ireland.

Such services should be operated by the State, Ms Smith said.

She was speaking in the Dáil yesterday (November 17) during statements on the Air Accident Investigation Unit’s (AAIU) final report into the loss of four lives in the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicoper crash off Mayo in March 2017.

The final AAIU report published on November 5th made 71 findings and 42 recommendations in relation to the Sikorsky S-92 crash, which claimed the lives of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

The bodies of the winch crew have still not been recovered.

Addressing Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan in the Dáil chamber, Ms Smith noted that he had referred to it as “a tragic, unforeseen accident”.

"I don’t believe this was a tragic, unforeseen accident"

“But I don’t believe this was a tragic, unforeseen accident, because when you prioritise costs in tendering out core services then you create very serious risk and cost of life,” Ms Smith said.

The Rescue 116 crew were employed by CHC Ireland which holds the current Irish Coast Guard contract to run four search and rescue aviation bases. A tender for the new contract is currently underway.

Referring to navigational issues, she questioned the “light-touch regulation” and the role of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

“If we are to fully honour the crew of 116, and indeed to honour all of the Air Corps and sea rescue personnel, then we have to do more than simply accept the recommendations in this report,” Ms Smith said.

“We have to end the light-touch regulation in bodies like the IAA, and we have to end the tendering and obsession with cutting costs for vital public services and ensure the State operates such vital services itself,” she said.

“If you award that contract to CHC...then the dedicated staff and the personnel that are employed to look after our safety at sea and to rescue us will we be highly insulted,” she told the minister.

“ I think it would be an absolute irony and a tragedy for the State to do this,” she added.

Ms Smith expressed solidarity with the families of the four crew and said the State owed them an apology.

She also questioned why the final report had been sent for review, delaying its publication by over two years.

Opening the two hour debate, Minister Ryan said he accepted all of the recommendations relating to his department.

While it would take some time for his department to deal with each of the findings, he said he would formally respond to all of the safety recommendations ahead of a 90-day timeframe for him to do so.

The AAIU had concluded that the tragedy was an "organisational accident", he said, and he outlined a number of measures taken by his department to improve search and rescue operations, including publication of a national search and rescue plan.

A review of all training for Irish Coast Guard staff had taken place, and there had been a formal course on tasking of aviation assets.

New legislation would formalise the role of the IAA on oversight of search and rescue.

Mr Ryan explained that his department had asked that the IAA’s role as civil regulator be reviewed by external experts this year, and it found no gaps under the Irish Aviation Act 1993 in meeting obligations.

He paid tribute to the work of the AAIU and to the four Rescue 116 crew and expressed sympathies to their families.

Sympathies were also expressed by a number of deputies participating in the debate.

Independent TD for Galway West Catherine Connolly expressed frustration that such a short time frame had been allotted for considering such a lengthy and detailed report at 350 pages.

Sinn Féin’s transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said that accepting the findings of the report alone was not enough.

He called on the minister to provide a timeline for when each of the 42 safety recommendations would be implemented.

Mr O’Rourke asked what mechanism would be used to ensure the different parties, to which recommendations were addressed, would comply with the report on a coordinated basis.

Mayo Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway Walsh welcomed the minister’s commitment, and said robust and thorough action was required to ensure crews had confidence in their working environment.

People living in her constituency in Erris had a special place in their hearts for the sacrifice made by the four crew on the morning of March 14th, 2017, she said.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin read the statement on the AAIU report by the Irish Airline Pilots Association into the Dáil record, and noted that the pilots’ union had said that the loss of life was as "needless as it was preventable".

Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo Dara Calleary and Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy also questioned why search and rescue aviation was not being run by the State.

Mr Calleary paid tribute to the communities in Erris and north Mayo who had rallied to provide support during the extended search effort.

Irish Coast Guard volunteers who were on call 24/7 deserved dignity and respect, which they were not getting at present, Mr Calleary said.

The loss of four Air Corps search and rescue helicopter crew in the Dauphin crash off Tramore, Co Waterford in 1999 was recalled by two Waterford deputies - Independent TD Matt Shanahan and Green Party TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh.

Mr Shanahan recalled that Capt Dave O'Flaherty, Capt Mick Baker, Sgt Paddy Mooney and Cpl Niall Byrne died shortly after midnight on July 2nd, 1999, while returning from a rescue mission off the Waterford coast.

He said the State needed to install a permanent fixed wing aircraft based in Dublin to provide top cover for search and rescue, assist in marine pollution, and with patient transfer capability.

He also queried the delay in rolling out night vision goggles for all search and rescue.

Members of the house observed a moment of silence in memory of the four Rescue 116 crew who died in the crash at the close of the debate.

Published in Coastguard
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The "probable cause" of the Rescue 116 Irish Coast Guard helicopter crash, which claimed the lives of four air crew off the north Mayo coast in March 2017, has been identified as a combination of poor weather, the helicopter's altitude and the crew being unaware of a 282ft obstacle on the flight path to an initial waypoint in a pre-programmed route guide.

The 350- page final report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) also identifies "serious and important weaknesses" in management of risk mitigation by helicopter operator, CHC Ireland, which holds the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) contract.

Four crew Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch team Paul Ormsby died in the crash at Blackrock island at 0046.08 hours on March 14th 2017.

The bodies of Capt Fitzpatrick and Capt Duffy were recovered, but both Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith are still missing despite extensive searches.

The report recalls how R116 was asked to provide top cover for Rescue 118 from Sligo, which had been tasked to airlift a casualty from a fishing vessel, situated approximately 140 nautical miles off the west coast of Ireland.

Black Rock island Black Rock off the Mullet Peninsula in Co Mayo, where the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter went down Credit: CIL

"At 00.46 hrs, on 14 March 2017, while positioning for an approach to Blacksod from the west, the helicopter, which was flying at 200 feet above the sea, collided with terrain at the western end of Black Rock, departed from controlled flight, and impacted with the sea," it says.

"During the immediate search and rescue response, the Commander was found in the sea to the south-east of Black Rock and was later pronounced dead. Subsequently, the main wreckage of the helicopter was found close to the south-eastern tip of Black Rock, on the seabed at a depth of approximately 40 metres," it says.

Capt Fitzpatrick's colleague Capt Duffy died instantly and was located within the cockpit section of the wreckage and was recovered by Naval service divers.

The report has 42 safety recommendations, which Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan says he accepts

The report has 42 safety recommendations, which Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan says he accepts.

The preliminary report published in April 2017 was critical of lack of navigational information for the crew. It highlighted how personal locator beacons in the pilots' lifejackets malfunctioned due to a conflict in fitting instructions.

The final report, which has been delayed in publication by two years after one of the parties sought a review, identifies "confusion at State level" regarding responsibility for oversight of search and rescue operations in Ireland.

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

Rescue helicopter R116Rescue helicopter R116

The report found that the initial route waypoint for the approach to Blacksod to refuel was almost "coincident" with the terrain at Blackrock island. Flight databases didn't indicate the presence of Blackrock, and neither did some of its imagery. Lighthouses were not clearly marked in the route guide with a small red dot and an elevation in numerical value.

Route guide hazards and obstacles listed on the route guide title page were identified by white numericals, within red circles, outlined in black.

The report has found that the helicopter operator didn't have "formalised, standardised, controlled or periodic" systems of testing flight routes.

Route guides had not been fully proven and updated, there was an error in the length of one of the route legs for Blacksod helipad which had gone undetected since 1999, and emails provided by CHC Ireland showed that one pilot advised in June 2013 that Blackrock lighthouse was not shown on the emergency ground proximity warning system (EGPWS).

It also found that the flight crew members' likely hours of wakefulness at the time of the accident were correlated with "increased error rates and judgement lapses."

A sleep study of some of the operator's SAR crew members found that they accrued less sleep than the US National Sleep Foundation recommended and that "this may not be enough sleep for optimal operational duty".

The Irish Coast Guard four helicopter bases operate a 24-hour shift – the only emergency service to do so –and it is understood that flight duty time was degraded over the years by the Irish Aviation Authority.

The Department of Transport has stated it fully accepts the recommendations contained within the report and will continue to evaluate the findings in the coming weeks.

"This was a tragic accident that claimed the lives of four individuals who were dedicated to saving the lives of others," Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said.

He said he would "like to again convey my condolences to the families and loved ones of the R116's crew at this time".

"The completion of the Investigation and the publication of the report is a key step in ensuring that such accidents are prevented in the future. I wish to acknowledge the investigative work that has been done by the AAIU that has culminated in this report," he said.

"This is clearly reflected in the level of detail and wide-ranging nature of the report, with safety recommendations that cover all aspects of SAR aviation, both nationally and internationally," he said.

The AAIU, which states its role is not to apportion blame or liability, said it adopted a revised text after a review, and says the final report includes "substantially the same safety recommendations" as those issued in the draft final report in September 2019.

The report notes that the reasons for selecting a 282 ft obstacle as the starting point for what the Operator described as a 'Low Level' route, with no vertical profile, could not be determined because the origins of the route design itself were unknown to the operator.

"a number of factors militated against the flight crew detecting Black Rock"

It identifies a number of factors that militated against the flight crew detecting Black Rock in time to carry out an effective avoidance manoeuvre.

It says Black Rock was not in the emergency ground positioning warning system (EGPWS) databases.

"The BLKMO magenta waypoint symbol and track line likely obscured radar returns from Black Rock (which might have been detected on the 10 NM range)" and the 1:250,000 Aeronautical Chart, Euronav imagery did not extend as far as Black Rock."

"The 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Ireland imagery in the Toughbook did not show Black Rock, but instead showed open water at Black Rock," it says.

"Furthermore, the operator did not have formal processes or procedures to approve mapping data/imagery for use in its helicopters," it says.

"The operating environment on the west coast would have been more challenging than east coast crews were familiar with, particularly regarding the availability of visual cues in the littoral environment. This meant that it would not have been possible for the Flight crew to accurately assess their horizontal visibility," it says.

"However, given that Black Rock was only detected on the FLIR camera when the Helicopter was approximately 600 m from it, it seems that the horizontal visibility to the naked eye was probably less than 600 m," it says.

"Furthermore, the Flight crew's night vision may have been compromised due to the helicopter's external lighting. Research indicates that if the Flight crew were awake for the length of time suggested by the Investigation's review (18 hours for the Commander and 17 hours for the Co-pilot), they would have been more prone to errors in judgement and decision-making," it says.

"The tempo of the mission was different to east coast missions, and furthermore, the SAR support nature of the mission was known to be monotonous, increasing the risk of the Crew succumbing to fatigue," it says.

"Routes were generally viewed as base-centric, and a level of local knowledge and familiarity may have been assumed, which was an invalid assumption when an east coast crew was utilising a west coast route, a situation compounded by darkness and poor weather," it says.

"The Operator said that the routes were merely there as a framework on which to build a plan for entry/exit to a number of known sites. However, there was no formal training in the use of routes; there was no formal procedure for how a route was to be designed; there was no formal procedure for how a crew should use a route guide; routes did not include a vertical profile or minimum altitudes generally, for route legs; and routes were not available for use in the simulator," it says.

"The Route Guide was prefaced with the statement that it was 'a work in progress and should be used with the necessary caution until all routes/waypoints are proven'. Therefore, the routes were unproven, and the Operator did not have a defined process for route proving. Consequently, in the absence of formal, standardised training, design procedure or procedure for how a crew should use a route guide, it is unclear what beliefs/expectations individual pilots may have had regarding routes and how they could be used operationally," it says.

"Problems with a number of routes had been identified in the SQID system (the Operator's Safety and Quality Integrated Database), however, the SQID report was closed after personnel were emailed to resolve the matter, but without checking that the routes had actually been updated correctly," it says.

"The closing of SQIDS without checking that effective action had been completed was one of a number of issues identified with the Operator's Safety Management System (SMS). The Investigation also found that safety meetings were not being held as often as called for; minutes were not being uploaded onto SQID; SQID closure was not following the protocols set out in the Safety Management and Compliance Monitoring Manual (SMCMM); the quality of Risk Assessments could be improved," it says.

The report recalls how the helicopter maintained a north-westerly track until it reached 200 ft, at which point the Commander announced that Approach One was complete and that she was '[…] just going to help it round the corner … coming to the left'.

"As the Helicopter commenced the left turn back towards BLKMO, the Winchman announced that the Helicopter was 'clear around to the left'. This was followed approximately 30 seconds later by a further announcement from the Co-pilot that they were 'ah clear ahead on E GYP WIZZ and radar'," it says.

"At 00.43 hrs, as the helicopter was turning back towards BLKMO at 200 ft, the 'Before Landing' checklist was commenced. During this time, the Co-pilot stated: 'starting to get ground coming in there at just over eight miles in the ten o'clock position'. Just as the Commander was completing the final item of the 'Before Landing' checklist, she commented that she was visual with the surface of the sea," it says.

"At 00.45 hrs, the Co-pilot announced 'okay so small targets at six miles at 11 o'clock… large out to the right there'. This was followed approximately 20 seconds later by an Auto Callout' Altitude, Altitude', which the Commander said was 'just a small little island that's B L M O itself'," it says.

"Just prior to 00.46 hrs the Winchman announced 'Looking at an island just eh directly ahead of us now guys…you wanna come right [Commander's name]'. The Commander asked for confirmation of the required turn, and the Winchman replied 'twenty degrees right yeh'," it says.

"The Commander instructed the Co-pilot to select heading (HDG) mode, which the Co-pilot acknowledged and actioned. Within one second of this acknowledgement, the Winchman announced 'come right now, come right, COME RIGHT'. Shortly after this, the helicopter pitched up rapidly and rolled to the right. At 00.46:08 hrs, the helicopter collided with terrain at the western end of Black Rock, departed from controlled flight, and impacted with the sea. The main wreckage of the helicopter came to rest on the seabed to the east of Black Rock, at a depth of 40 metres (m)," it says.

In its conclusions, the report states that there were gaps in the way tasking protocols were followed at MRSC Malin.

It says both flight crew members commented adversely about the quality of cockpit lighting, and neither had been to Blackrock recently.

It says the Commander reviewed the route waypoints with the co-pilot and took '*overfly*' off one waypoint, which the Investigation believes was BKSDC (Blacksod).

It says she did not verbalise the obstacle information from APBSS route into Blacksod, when she briefed the route but it appears that she did read at least some of the information because she was aware of an obstacle to the west of Blacksod when the Co-pilot asked about an escape heading.

It says the co-pilot self-briefed the route and he did not verbalise the obstacle information.

"Radar was operated on the 10 NM range throughout the descent and manoeuvring to commence APBSS," it says.

It says Black Rock was not identified on radar which was likely due to obscuration caused by the magenta BLKMO waypoint marker and the magenta track line to the waypoint marker.

"Black Rock was not in the EGPWS databases. The 1:250,000 Aeronautical Chart, Euronav imagery did not extend as far as Black Rock. The 1:50,000 OSI imagery available on the Toughbook did not show Black Rock Lighthouse or terrain, and appeared to show open water in the vicinity of Black Rock," it says.

"The AIS transponder installed on the helicopter was capable of receiving AIS Aids-to Navigation transmissions; however, the AIS add-on application for the Toughbook mapping software could not display AIS Aids-to-Navigation transmissions," it says.

"The winchman announced that he had detected an island ahead on the EO/IR camera system when the helicopter was about 0.3 NM from it, travelling at a ground speed of 90 kts. The winchman called for a change of heading and the flight crew were in the process of making the change when the urgency of the situation became clear to the winchman," it says.

"There is no indication on the cockpit voice recorder that the flight crew saw Black Rock, although in the final seconds of flight there was a significant, manual input on the Collective Lever, an associated 'droop' in main rotor RPM and a roll to the right," it says.

"the Department of Transport lacked the technical expertise to oversee the IAA"

"The helicopter collided with terrain at the western end of Black Rock, departed from controlled flight and impacted with the sea. At no stage did any member of the crew comment on seeing, or expecting to see, a light from Black Rock Lighthouse," it says.

It says the Department of Transport lacked the technical expertise to oversee the IAA and the Irish Coast Guard did not have a safety management system.

"Numerous areas, across several agencies, are explored in-depth in the Final Report, it says which demonstrate that the accident was, in effect, what expert Professor James Reason termed 'an organisational accident'," it says.

"The Final Report highlights the importance of robust processes in relation to the following areas: Route Guide design, waypoint positioning, and associated training; reporting and correcting of anomalies in EGPWS and charting systems; Fatigue Risk Management Systems; Toughbook usage; en route low altitude operation; and the functionality of emergency equipment," it says

"It is particularly important that an operator involved in Search and Rescue has an effective Safety Management System, which has the potential to improve flight safety by reacting appropriately to safety issues reported, and by proactively reducing risk with the aid of a rigorous risk assessment process, "it says.

The Final Report identifies the importance of the levels of expertise within organisations involved in contracting and tasking complex operations such as Search and Rescue, to ensure that associated risks are understood, that effective oversight of contracted services can be maintained and that helicopters only launch when absolutely necessary.

In a statement, Hermione Duffy, wife of the late Capt Mark Duffy, said her husband had been an excellent pilot and father and, together with his colleagues, shared a deep commitment to his search and rescue role, always taking pride and satisfaction from his work.

Ms Duffy asked people to remember that "four honourable souls lost their precious lives that night in the service of others, and in circumstances which are harrowing and traumatic to read of and which have left wives, children, parents and extended families bereft".

"the loss of four aircrew lives was "as needless as it was preventable"

The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) said the report shows that the loss of four aircrew lives was "as needless as it was preventable", it says.

The final publication of the Report corresponds with the AAIU Interim and Preliminary reports and "makes it clear that the crew of R116 were exemplary in the performance of their assigned task", IALPA says.

"Their planning, response, teamwork, and communication was exactly what would be expected from such a competent and seasoned crew, on a flight led by such professional pilots," it says.

"They were let down by a regulatory system which left them ill-equipped to do the vital work that same system tasked them with," it says.

"The report outlines a number of regulatory and systemic issues which conspired to put the crew in lethal danger. Prime amongst them was the provision of inaccurate and misleading chart and map data," IALPA says.

"All flight crew rely on the basic assumption that their maps and charts provide accurate data. Few flight crews could be more reliant on that assumption of accurate data than the crew of a rescue helicopter, operating offshore in challenging conditions outside their normal home base, scrambled at short notice to launch a rescue in the middle of the night (00:45 am). They relied on the data production standards of Irish regulation to guarantee them correct information" it says.

"They were let down," IALPA says.

IALPA President Evan Cullen described it as a fundamental betrayal, and said that "as an airline pilot, if I take a flight from Dublin to Rome, I must navigate the Alps, and I expect one of two things from the Swiss authorities; tell me the height of the alps, or tell me they don't know the heights, so I'd better avoid them. The one thing they can't do, under any circumstances, ever, is tell me the wrong height, or tell me the Alps are not there," he said.

"In essence that is what the Irish State did to Dara, Mark, Paul and Ciarán. They approved information which said, 'you are safe', when the absolute opposite was the truth."

IALPA said the report details failures in oversight, equipment requirements and maintenance, and in resourcing for SAR.

"But it is the regulatory failure by the now-defunct Irish Aviation Authority which is central to this accident. They set the standards for equipment, for mapping, and for oversight. They accepted standards which most, if not all, of their European peer authorities, would not," IALPA says.

"This tragic and unnecessary loss of life must not be allowed to happen again. IALPA is calling on the Government and Minister for Transport to institute an immediate review of the failures identified in this report, and to bring forward concrete proposals to address each and every identified failure immediately," it says.

CHC Ireland responds

CHC Ireland said it would like to express its deepest sympathy towards the family and friends of our colleagues; Ciarán, Dara, Mark and Paul", and welcomed the final report.

The company said it acknowledged the work of the AAIU "in producing such a comprehensive review", which is "extremely thorough and will make difficult reading for all those involved".

"These lessons will undoubtedly be applied across Search and Rescue operations in Ireland and throughout the world. We are also grateful for the work of the Chair of the Review Board," CHC Ireland said.

"CHC Ireland continues to advance aviation safety by investing in ongoing employee training and development, working to global standards and engaging with aviation stakeholders. Our commitment is to deliver essential Search and Rescue services to the people of Ireland in a safe and professional manner," it said.

"We are committed to implementing the appropriate Safety Recommendations that are directed towards CHC Ireland in the Final Report. The report is clear that the organisation of Search and Rescue in Ireland involves many stakeholders including the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Coast Guard and the European Aviation Safety Agency. CHC Ireland will ensure that it collaborates with all the relevant stakeholders to address the recommendations. The most important thing is that we collectively ensure that all areas identified for further strengthening are actioned," it said.

"We continue to honour the memories of Ciarán, Dara, Mark and Paul. They will never be forgotten"

CHC Ireland general operations manager Rob Tatten referred to the "unwavering commitment" of all those involved in search and rescue.

"Our crews continue to fly hundreds of search and rescue missions every year, saving many lives. Our team is justifiably proud of our global safety record and everyone in CHC Ireland is committed to the safe delivery of our service," he said.

"We continue to honour the memories of Ciarán, Dara, Mark and Paul. They will never be forgotten," Mr Tatten said.

Irish Aviation Authority statement

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) issued a statement this evening saying it wished to "take the opportunity to again express our greatest sympathy to the families and friends of the four crew members of the Irish Coast Guard R116, who tragically lost their lives while undertaking a rescue mission on 14 March 2017"

The authority said it welcomed the publication today of the Air Accident Investigation UUnit's (AAIU) comprehensive report into this accident, which we believe will contribute to the prevention of future aviation accidents both in Ireland and indeed globally.

We have reviewed and fully accept the recommendations addressed to the IAA, which have already been implemented or are proceeding to full implementation. We will verify our progress in this regard to the AAIU.

At the time of the R116 accident, the IAA exercised safety oversight of the operator through their Air Operator Certificate and a national Search & Rescue approval. As indicated in the AAIU report, Search & Rescue regulation is not covered by ICAO or EU safety rules. The AAIU has recommended that the EU Commission review Search & Rescue safety standards at European level with a view to developing guidance material, and the IAA supports this recommendation. The IAA continues to work on an on-going basis with the European Commission and EASA in the development of safety rules.

As the aviation regulator for Ireland, the safety of air crew and passengers is our number one priority. We want to restate our commitment to working with all stakeholders to achieve this aim, including the implementation of all safety recommendations in the AAIU report.

The IAA is currently undergoing a programme of institutional restructuring, which will establish a new, single, independent aviation regulator for civil aviation in Ireland. This conforms with best practice for institutional structure and governance for regulators in Europe and globally.

Pilot Dara FitzpatrickPilot Dara Fitzpatrick

In a statement the family of pilot Dara Fitzpatrick said they believed that Dara and her fellow crew members were ""adly let down" "by operator CHC Ireland for ""ot providing them with the safe operating procedures and training that they were entitled to expect'"

Family response

The Fitzpatrick family said there was an expectation on the operator of the search and rescue service to minimise the risk to the crew by aiming to remove risk and providing crews with safety procedures on which they can rely.

"Unfortunately, this was not done on this occasion," "the Fitzpatrick family said.

"We hope that the AAIU final report and the review board report will ensure that those responsible for this operation, both directly and at a supervisory level, urgently implement the necessary changes, and that in future they pay attention to the feedback that they get from flight crew as to any inadequacies and hazards in the operation, so that such an accident will never happen again, that no one else will needlessly lose their lives, and that no other families will have to endure the devastating loss that we endure with the untimely death of our beautiful Dara," "the family stated.

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An independent Association has been established to represent the concerns of Irish Coast Guard (“IRCG”) Volunteers.

As Afloat reported previously, the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (“ICGVRA”), consisting of existing and former IRCG volunteers, was launched in Kilkee over the bank holiday weekend following a moving commemoration for IRCG volunteer Caitriona Lucas who lost her life at Kilkee on 12th September 2016.

During the ceremony, Emma Lucas, daughter of Caitriona Lucas, placed a wreath for her mother, together with John O Mahony, Chairman ICGVRA, on the clifftop beside where Caitriona died when Kilkee’s Irish Coast Guard Delta Rib capsized. ICGVRA’s launch was attended by several politicians, including Clare Oireachtas members Joe Carey T.D and Senator Roisin Garvey, Senator Gerard Craughwell (Galway), and Maurice Quinlivan T.D (Limerick), as well as international maritime lawyer, Michael Kingston. 

Many Irish Coast Guard Volunteers both past and present spoke movingly about the importance of having an independent association to represent their interests. Bernard Lucas, Vice Chairperson of ICGVRA said "Volunteers are central to the strength and capability of the Coast Guard Units and their value must be prioritised. For far too long volunteers have had no voice. The time is now to stand together for the betterment of the Coast Guard as a whole and its volunteers."

Inaugural Members of ICGVRA at launch, Kilkee, Co Clare, with (left to right) Joe Carey T.D, Senator Roisin Garvey, Maurice Quinlivan T.D, Senator Gerard Craughwell, and Michael Kingston (far right)Inaugural Members of ICGVRA at launch, Kilkee, Co Clare, with (left to right) Joe Carey T.D, Senator Roisin Garvey, Maurice Quinlivan T.D, Senator Gerard Craughwell, and Michael Kingston (far right)

ICGVRA Chairman, John O Mahony stated “In the history of the Irish Coast Guard there has never been an independent voice to speak on behalf of the Volunteers as a collective, to ensure that the well-being of volunteers from their perspective is at the heart of best practice policies within Units and in Units and volunteers’ interaction with IRCG Management. We need to be here to offer support and help to all IRCG members both past and present, to assist in resolving any issues that they may have struggled with, and to work with IRCG Management to ensure best practice prevails so that issues do not arise, if possible, in the first place. And if they do, we are here to ensure that when conflicts arise, they can be resolved objectively and transparently whilst exercising fairness and common sense. We are here to establish positive dialogue with I.R.G.C management”

A wreath laid for Caitriona Lucas, at clifftop close to where Kilkee's IRCG Delta Rib capsized on 12th September 2016, Kilkee, Co ClareA wreath laid for Caitriona Lucas, at clifftop close to where Kilkee's IRCG Delta Rib capsized on 12th September 2016, Kilkee, Co Clare

ICGVRA Secretary, Jim Griffin, who relayed to those present the aims of ICGVRA said “The formation of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association is long overdue given the events and treatment of IRCG Volunteers in recent years by H.Q. It has become apparent that IRCG management have adopted a ‘Divide and Conquer’ mentality towards the Volunteers” 

ICGVRA says it is now seeking an urgent meeting with Transport Minister, Eamonn Rayan, and has already, through Darren O Rourke T.D (Sinn Fein), raised their concerns with the Transport Minister. Joe Carey T.D (Fine Gael) and Senator Gerard Craughwell (Independent), as members of the Transport and Communications Committee (together with Darren O Rourke) confirmed they would also be raising ICGVRA’s concerns at the next Committee meeting.

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As schools in Northern Ireland prepare for the half-term break, the RNLI and the Coastguard are reminding everyone to stay safe if they are heading to the coast or are visiting the local inland waterways as the autumn sets in.

During last year’s half-term holidays, RNLI lifeboats across Ireland and the UK launched 143 times and aided 78 people as its volunteer crews dealt with everything from tidal cut-offs and struggling paddleboarders to slips and trips on coastal paths, as well as vessels in distress.

Lisa Hollingum, RNLI Water Safety Delivery Support said: ‘With the best of the weather behind us for the year, we’re asking those visiting the coast and inland waterways this half-term to consider the dangers.

‘Our lifeboats often rescue those cut off by the tide on coastal walks, so we encourage you to check the tide times and ensure you have planned to get back safely before the water level rises.

‘For those planning a coastal walk, also consider the terrain as what may seem like firm ground can, in fact, be very soft sand or mud meaning that people might get stuck.

‘If you are cruising on the inland waterways, plan your journey, and be aware of the shorter evenings so that you leave enough time to reach your overnight mooring.

‘Over the coming months, sea and lake conditions will become rougher and more unpredictable which brings many additional dangers. Large waves will break on the shoreline which increases the risk of people being swept off their feet, along with coastal erosion causing cliff falls making some areas more dangerous.

‘Around 140 people lose their lives around Irish and UK coasts, including on inland waterways each year, and over half never even planned to enter the water. If you do find yourself in the water unexpectedly, FLOAT to live by fighting your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and float until you gain control of your breathing, before deciding whether to call for help or swim to safety.’

Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard, said: ‘Autumn is a perfect time to explore the coastal areas and inland waterways around the UK, the summer crowds have gone and the weather is ideal for a walk. However, the sunshine can quickly vanish making the temperature much colder and the lifeguards who were present in peak season are no longer on most beaches. It is vital at this time of year to be prepared before you head to the coast.

‘As always, we are ready to deal with emergency situations but please take note of safety advice and don’t take risks. If you see anybody in trouble, don’t enter the water yourself to try and rescue them, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’

The RNLI’s key coastal safety advice is:

  • Have a plan - check the weather forecast, tide times, read local hazard signage and let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back
  • Keep a close eye on your family and keep dogs on a lead near the edge of cliffs
  • If walking or running be aware that coastal paths, promenades and piers may be slippery or prone to waves breaking over them
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT to Live. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back and relax, extending your arms and legs
  • In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard
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Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said his department will cover “reasonable legal expenses” incurred by the families of the four Rescue 116 air crew who died off North Mayo in relation to a review of the draft final Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report.

In a statement issued this Thursday evening, Mr Ryan said he had written to the families of the crew of R116 that afternoon.

He said he had “ let them know that the Department of Transport will cover their reasonable legal expenses incurred as a result of the Review into the accident in which their loved ones lost their lives”.

Pilots Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy and winch team Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith died when their Sikorsky S-92 crashed at Blackrock island off north Mayo in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

The four crew were employed by CHC Ireland which holds the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract.

The AAIU issued a preliminary and interim reports, and sent its draft final report to “interested parties” in September 2019 with a 60-day window for submissions and comments.

However, in March 2020, former transport minister permitted the establishment of a review board to examine certain findings in the draft final report before publication, following a request from one of the parties.

A review board, chaired by senior counsel Patrick McCann, was established under Regulation 16 of Air Navigation Regulations 2009.

The Irish Airline Pilots Association and European Cockpit Association were critical of this decision as being against the international norm, which seeks to ensure investigations are published within a timeframe to improve safety.

The AAIU does not apportion blame, and this was the first time its draft final report had been subject to such a review.

Earlier this week, RTÉ Investigates reported that three of the four families were obliged to pay for their own legal representation in the review which had been sought by the air crews’ employer, CHC Ireland, and had incurred substantial costs.

Ryan said that “the chairman of the Review board wrote to me with a recommendation that the reasonable legal costs of the families be covered”.

“I was happy to accept this recommendation and asked my officials to work on a mechanism to resolve the issue,” he said.

“The families of the crew did not ask for the review and were placed in a position of having to contribute to a complex process to ensure their loved ones’ interests were fully represented,”Ryan said.

“While the Department of Transport argued before the review board that it did not have authority to make an order on costs, this was done because of the broader implications that such a ruling might have in future,” he said.

“ This was never intended to imply a reluctance to pay these costs, and the additional stress this may have caused is regretted,” he said.

“In writing to the families, I am also conscious that they will shortly receive the final report of the investigation into the accident, a moment which is bound to be difficult for all concerned,” he said.

“Today we remember the service of pilot Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarn Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby who gave their lives in the courageous pursuit of protecting others,” Ryan said.

Published in Coastguard
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The new Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association will be announced on Saturday at a meeting in Kilkee, Co.Clare.

It is the first association established to represent Coast Guard volunteers and its organisers say it consists of existing and former volunteers from around the coast.

There has been controversy over allegations by Coast Guard volunteers at several locations of "poor treatment" and of disciplinary action following any disagreement with management over operational issues.

Management has denied the allegations and pointed to the introduction of new systems and reforms.

The new Association will be asking for the issues to be addressed by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, under whose Department the Coast Guard operates.

It says it will work with Coast Guard Management to "provide a high-quality emergency service which always provides the best response for those who are in need of assistance" and that it wants to "promote the health, safety and well-being of volunteers within Irish Coast Guard Units, to promote openness, fairness and transparency within IRCG Units in the interaction between volunteers and Management"

Published in Coastguard
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In the early evening of Saturday, 2nd October, Belfast Coastguard put out a MAYDAY in response to a 20ft yacht with four people on board reportedly taking on water and without power, a mile north of Corsewall Point, at the mouth of Loch Ryan on the southwest coast of Scotland.

The Stena Superfast VIII, the ro-ro/passenger ferry between Belfast and Cairnryan on Loch Ryan, passed and responded. They launched their fast rescue craft and stood by the vessel until the arrival of Portpatrick and Stranraer RNLI lifeboats. The craft was assisted to Stranraer marina by the lifeboats.

Belfast Coastguard, with Headquarters in Bangor on Belfast Lough, coordinates Search and Rescue for Northern Ireland, Southwest Scotland and North West England. They commented, "We are very grateful for the swift and professional response from Superfast VIII and at no time was the ferry or its passengers or crew in any danger".

Published in Ferry
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The outgoing head of the Irish Coast Guard Chris Reynolds has said he has nothing against the Air Corps returning to search and rescue if it can guarantee it is available “24/7”.

In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Reynolds, who is head of the European Union Capacity Building Mission in Somalia, confirmed that the Department of Transport turned down his application for extended leave of absence to September 2022.

Last week, he confirmed he was leaving the Irish Coast Guard to stay on as head of the EU mission in Somalia.

Reynolds, a former Naval Service officer who was appointed to head the Irish Coast Guard in 2007, was seconded to Somalia with the EU in July 2016.

However, he spent 15 months back in Ireland with the Coast Guard after the Rescue 116 crash in March 2017, and before his promotion from deputy to director of the EU mission in 2019.

“I knew I had to come home – it was a traumatic time for the families of the four aircrew and for everyone in the Irish Coast Guard,” he said.

Reynolds said that relations between him and the department were so poor that he was initially prevented from visiting Irish Coast Guard stations on his own without a civil servant.

Reynolds said that he had argued as far back as 2011/12 for more resources for the Irish Coast Guard.

“I had identified that the organisation was deficient in health and safety, in resources and aviation expertise, and all of these areas have now been addressed,” he said.

“After the helicopter crash, the department had the stark choice of resourcing it or closing it down.”

“The case I had made for extra staff and funding was granted, and I am happy that I was able to put the Irish Coast Guard back together again,” he said.

As part of its fleet, the Air Corps currently operates two Casa CN 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. These aircraft entered service in 1994 and operate seven days a week usually in the offshore maritime patrol arena.As part of its fleet, the Air Corps currently operates two Casa CN 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. These aircraft entered service in 1994 and operate seven days a week usually in the offshore maritime patrol arena. Photo: Air Corps

Reynolds said he also approached the then Tánaiste Simon Coveney about merging the Irish Coast Guard with the Naval Service.

Since the Government began plans for a new search and rescue contract for the Irish Coast Guard, Reynolds has been critical publicly of the Air Corps bid to become involved.

The Air Corps was withdrawn from search and rescue in 2004. At the time, its crews were based in Sligo, with three other search and rescue bases run on contract.

Currently, all four bases are contracted to CHC Ireland, and a service level agreement with the Air Corps is for aircraft “as and when available”.

Late last month, the Government signalled it would proceed with formal procurement for a new contract in October, and indicated that the Air Corps could provide a fixed-wing element to the Coast Guard’s overall aviation service.

“The point is that the Air Corps has to be able to guarantee it is there 24/7, 365 days a year,” Reynolds said.

In March 2017, the Air Corps was not able to provide a Casa maritime patrol aircraft when it was asked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter in a medical evacuation 250 km west of Mayo.

The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew was then tasked to provide top cover and crashed at Blackrock island – claiming the lives of all four crew, two of whom are still missing.

Read The Sunday Independent here

Published in Coastguard
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The rescue of cousins Sara Feeney (23) and Ellen Glynn (17) after being swept out to sea on paddleboards captured the attention of the country last August. How a balmy summer's evening quickly turned into a nightmare for the cousins' parents onshore, to the quick-witted reaction of the two women to lash the boards together, to the fishermen who realised the initial search was too focused on inner Galway Bay.

A story of endurance as Sara and Ellen survived 15 hours at sea, and the tears of relief among hundreds of volunteers searching the Galway and Clare coastlines and in Galway RNLI lifeboat station, where the volunteer crews have recovered more bodies than most of them care to remember.

When 23-year old NUI Galway graduate Sara Feeney and her 17-year old cousin Ellen Glynn set out for a short spin on paddleboards one evening in mid-August 2020, they only expected to be on the water for a short time.

Covid-19 restrictions had prevented them from going to their closest beach at Silver Strand on north Galway Bay, so they drove out with Sara's mum Helen to Furbo beach, 12 km west of Galway city.

There were swimmers in the water, enjoying the heat in fading light as they pumped up the inflatable boards and took to the water at around 9.30pm.

Sara's mum Helen walked her dog, Otis, along the short shoreline. Within a short space of time she wondered why she couldn't see the cousins on the water.

Little did she know at that time that the two women were shouting and frantically waving their paddles, unable to make it back to shore.

The northerly breeze had turned north-easterly and gained in strength, and the two women had no means of communication – Ellen had forgotten her wet bag that normally carried her mobile phone. They were wearing lifejackets, but no wetsuits – only bikinis – and had no food or water.

Realising they were in danger of being separated, the two women strapped their boards together. Back on shore, Helen Feeney had dialled the emergency services and had been put through to the Irish Coast Guard.

For a time, the two women remained confident that they would be located and were initially only worried about all the trouble they would have caused. As darkness fell and the hours passed, they spotted boats and a helicopter coming close enough to light up the sea around them, but in the vast sea area, they could neither be seen nor heard.

Shooting stars and bioluminescence lifted their spirits briefly, and Ellen sang every Taylor Swift song that she knew. Conditions worsened, with heavy rain. When a lightning storm forced an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to fly off to the north, they knew they would have to try and survive the night. By now, they were clinging to their boards in a heavy swell.

As the fog lifted well after dawn, they realised just how much trouble they were in, with the Cliffs of Mother just south of them, the Aran island of Inis Oírr to the north, and the Atlantic to the west.

They had been carried all of 18 nautical miles or 33 kilometres diagonally across Galway Bay and out into the ocean. A chance sighting of floats attached to crab pots set by Aran fisherman Bertie Donohue saved them from drifting further.

When they were located by Galway fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan in their catamaran, Johnny Ó, the two women had been the focus of a major air/sea search co-ordinated by Valentia Coast Guard and had spent 15 hours at sea. "We found them, but they saved themselves," Patrick Oliver would say later.

Fishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girlsFishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girls

This documentary features interviews with Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn and their families one year on, speaking also to key people involved in their rescue, recalling how a balmy evening turned into a long, dark terrifying 15 hours that will be remembered as the miracle of Galway Bay.

Narrated by Lorna Siggins

Produced by Lorna Siggins and Sarah Blake

Sound Supervision by John Doyle and Peadar Carney

Available for podcast on Thursday 29th July

Broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday 1st August @ 6pm, Monday 2nd August @ 3pm, and Tuesday 3rd August @ 10pm

Published in Rescue

The government today (27 July 2021) agreed to commence the formal procurement process for a new Coast Guard aviation service in October next. The service is currently contracted to CHC Ireland and may be extended up to June 2025 at the latest. The decision was based on a detailed appraisal and business case prepared by KPMG for the Department of Transport, and was brought to Government by the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, T.D.

The business case brought to Government set out the strategic case for a new service, considered the range of options for how such a service could be delivered, including the potential for the Air Corps to provide an element of the service as a “hybrid” option alongside another civil operator. It also sets out an implementation plan to achieve the desired service.

The detailed appraisal included a financial and economic appraisal of short-listed options, with an assessment of costs, benefits, affordability, deliverability, risks and sensitivities associated with the options. The approval of the business case is one of the key steps required in the Public Spending Code (PSC). Details of the procurement will be announced in October when the formal Pre-Qualification requirements for tendering will be published.

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D proceeding to tender based on a business caseMinister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D proceeding to tender based on a business case

Commenting on the decision, Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D. said: “After a lengthy deliberative process, I am glad we now have a decision to proceed to tender based on a business case which has considered all relevant aspects involved including its core SAR role but also the important secondary benefits to be derived from the service including supports to the island communities and the Health Service Executive. The report considered all the various options for how the service can be best delivered, the demand drivers and the changing technological and market environment in which this procurement will be set. This is a costly but vital service to the State and it is important that we optimise the benefits to be derived from it”.

The Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, T.D welcomed the decision and the fact that it provides for the possibility of the Air Corps providing a new fixed wing element as part of the Coast Guard’s overall aviation service: “My Department and the Air Corps, working in close consultation with the Irish Coast Guard over the next two and a half months, will look at how the Air Corps might provide a dedicated fixed wing element of the service which meets the requirements and parameters which are now clearly set out in the business case”.

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton T.D. also welcomed the decision and thanked those stakeholders across the SAR system and the relevant Departments and state entities who have informed the deliberations on this process to date. “The decision paves the way for the procurement of this vital element of our Search and Rescue system over a 10 year period. The timelines and procurement strategy agreed today will ensure a seamless transition from the existing contract with CHCI. It will also offer the potential to avail of developments in technology since the last contract was let in 2010 and to build on the experience and lessons learnt over the last 10 years.”

She added: “The process of consultation and deliberation started over 18 months ago and has included extensive discussions with state and voluntary organisations involved and reliant to one degree or another on the Irish Coast Guard’s aviation service. Their views have helped to inform and shape the scope and nature of the new service which KPMG’s business case has appraised and costed”.

The formal procurement documentation will describe the expectations and requirements for the pre-qualification stage of the procurement. This will be published by end October next when the formal procurement is launched.

Based on the business case analysis, the new service is expected to benefit from some new elements including a dedicated fixed-wing component to provide the IRCG with an on-call pollution monitoring, high endurance search and top cover capability. It also has the potential to allow a more innovative helicopter fleet. The helicopter element will include night vision capability from the outset. From a competitive perspective, the procurement will benefit from a more extensive range of potential helicopter solutions than would have been on the market in 2010.

The current service already provides significant secondary services to the HSE and the National Ambulance Services and medical evacuation services to the island communities. The service scoped in the business case will continue to deliver these ancillary services and has the potential to deliver more supports to the HSE and additional fire-fighting capability to the Department of Housing / Fire Services. These aspects will be subject to further discussion with those services as the procurement strategy advances.

The cost of the existing contract is in the region of €60m a year. The analysis concludes that the estimated costs for a new service could be similar although the precise costings set out in the business case are premised on a number of different assumptions and based on a different model to the current one. The costings are confidential and commercially sensitive. The actual cost will only be known once the tenders have been received, evaluated and Government awards the tender – expected to be in March 2023.

Published in Coastguard
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