The Irish Coast Guard was warned over three years ago of difficulties with full inflation of lifejackets used by its inshore search, rescue and recovery craft, as Lorna Siggins reports in The Sunday Times reports today here.
The Irish Coast Guard confirmed on Friday evening it had initiated an investigation into what it described as the “recent malfunctioning of Rescue 400 lifejackets”, and said it had suspended sea rescue at 23 of its 44 stations.
However, separate alarms were raised shortly after the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas off the Co Clare coast in September 2016, when key safety equipment used at separate stations failed tests.
Systems and equipment failures were raised in the subsequent Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report into Ms Lucas’s death, but her husband Bernard said he believed the MCIB did not adequately address the failure of the safety equipment his wife was wearing.
It is understood a separate Health and Safety Authority (HSA) report into her death has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Ms Lucas, a mother of two and highly experienced member of the Doolin Coast Guard unit, sustained injury to her head after the capsize of a Delta rigid inflatable boat (RIB) during the search for a missing man off Kilkee, Co Clare, on September 12th, 2016.
She was the first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die in service. Two other crew on board were rescued.
Shortly after her death, a senior coxswain who had served with Ms Lucas at Doolin Coast Guard asked the unit’s safety officer to record that his helmet, drysuit and lifejacket were not fit for purpose.
His drysuit, which he had been wearing during the day Ms Lucas died, failed a water test the next time he put it on.
The coxswain had also recovered a helmet on the day of the Kilkee RIB capsize which had its buckle fully fastened - suggesting it was properly worn, but had failed to weather impact.
Independently, Irish Water Safety alerted the Irish Coast Guard to an issue with the Rescue 400 lifejackets, after a community rescue unit in Munster claimed there was a serious design flaw.
It is understood the Mallow search and rescue unit undertook its own tests on the Rescue 400 jacket in late September 2016, and noted that the position of the toggle to inflate the jacket manually was difficult to access.
The supplier was unavailable for comment.
Ms Lucas’s husband, Bernard Lucas, told The Sunday Times he believed the lifejackets and helmets used by the Irish Coast Guard should have been withdrawn for testing immediately after his wife’s death.
The Irish Coast Guard said last year said it had conducted independent testing of lifejackets in Britain and found them to be “fully compliant” for use in Atlantic waters.
Full report in The Sunday Times here