Accidental activation of satellite beacons or expired equipment meant that the majority of almost 200 such alerts proved to be false alarms this past year, the Irish Coast Guard has said.
In its end of year statement, the Irish Coast Guard has emphasised that beacons should be handled and tested regularly, and expired equipment should be properly disposed of.
It says the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite beacon alerting system has a “huge role to play” in alerting search and rescue authorities of people in distress.
Mobile phones should not be relied upon as the only means of emergency communication at sea, it warns, due to limited and unreliable coverage at sea and susceptibility of such devices to water ingress.
The Irish Coast Guard’s three rescue co-ordination centres at Malin Head, Co Donegal, Valentia, Co Kerry and Dublin managed a total of 2,487 incidents over the past year – slightly down on the total of 2,647 for 2018 and 2,503 for 2017.
A total of 378 lives were saved – as in, assistance was provided that prevented, loss of life, severe risk to life, or protracted hospitalisation.
Irish Coast Guard units run by 940 volunteers were involved in 1075 call-outs ranging from shore rescue boat and cliff rescue to shoreline search services. Support was also provided to communities during periods of bad weather.
The four Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopters based at Dublin, Shannon, Waterford and Sligo flew lover 770 missions last year, including both offshore and coastal missions and inland searches for missing people in support of the Garda Siochána and mountain rescue teams
A total of 123 emergency missions from offshore islands to the mainland were flown, and helicopter emergency medical service support was provided to the national ambulance service. The busiest inter-hospital transfer route is from Letterkenny to University Hospital Galway, it says.
The Irish Coast Guard says that the RNLI was asked to launch lifeboats on over 815 occasions this past year.
Irish Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan highlighted publication of the two key documents - a national search and rescue plan, and an oil spill contingency plan - as two “significant achievements” in 2019.
“I want to acknowledge the very constructive engagement that we had with a multiplicity of stakeholders,” Mr Clonan said.
He also said he wished to acknowledge “the commitment and professionalism of our volunteer members”.
“In addition to the three core services that they provide, they are an integral part of community resilience and continually act as the eyes and ears of our rescue coordination centres in responding to any coastal emergency,” Mr Clonan said.
He said the Irish Coast Guard would continue to focus on the importance of prevention as a core safety theme in the coming year, working with Water Safety Ireland, the RNLI, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Irish Sailing Association.