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The Irish Coastguard: They Have Our Backs

20th March 2017
Coastguard Helicopter R116 Coastguard Helicopter R116 Photo: Coastguard

Our maritime environment gives so much to so many people. Whether it be a source of living for coastal communities, essential transport services for an island nation or the pleasure of watersports, the waters of Ireland provide workspaces and playgrounds to a wide range of interests.

When tragedy strikes, those interests unite under a common banner, perhaps best, but inadequately, described as "seafaring".

The multi-agency response to the current Search and Rescue effort for R116 demonstrates how the maritime community is, if not joined at the hip, connected by sub-conscious ties. At a time like this, it is the Coast Guard that pulls the lines that brings seafarers from all disciplines together in a common cause. The Coast Guard itself, RNLI, Air Corps, Naval Service, fishermen, Gardai, Marine Institute, Irish Lights - separate entities but their common thread is the men and women who, to paraphrase Minister Ross, lend themselves to the cause of saving life at sea.

The news that R116 was tasked for an evacuation that involved a relatively minor injury shows just how deep this commitment runs.

When the loss of life hits the community that we expect to be our ultimate resource, if and when we have exhausted all other options, we are shocked by the realisation that they too are vulnerable.

And this despite extensive training and repetitive practice. Mark McGibney, coxswain of Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat, in an interview on Morning Ireland last week, emphasised the amount of practice they did with R116. He articulated the sub-conscious thoughts in the minds of many seafarers when he noted that the helicopter crews "had our backs".

Even as their colleagues grieve the loss of the crew of R116, these crews continue to "have our backs" and for that, this island nation must be truly grateful.

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