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A Coast Guard radio officer has defended his decision to request a medical evacuation for an injured fisherman off the west coast on the night that the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter crashed with the loss of four lives.

All four crew- Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith – died when their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed at Blackrock island in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

The Dublin-based helicopter had been asked to provide “top cover” or communications for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter which was tasked to airlift a fisherman with an injured thumb from a vessel 140 km off the Mayo coast.

At a resumed inquest in Belmullet, Co Mayo, coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald was told by Malin Head Coast Guard radio office Ian Scott that the casualty was bleeding out, in severe pain and had a section of his thumb amputated.

As RTÉ News reports, Mr Scott outlined how he had tried to secure top cover by the Air Corps and that he also "tried to get a Nimrod from the UK" but this was not available.

Rescue 116 was then asked to provide top cover and flew from Dublin. It was approaching Blacksod to refuel when it crashed at Blackrock island, west of Blacksod.

Mr Scott told the inquest that a doctor he had consulted did not object to his decision to take the injured crewman ashore.

He said he used his judgement, accrued over 42 years, and said “in my opinion the man needed off the vessel".

Mr Scott told the inquest he would make the same decision today.

Garda Supt Gary Walsh read a deposition from the captain of the Kings Cross fishing vessel, William Buchan, describing how crewman John James Strachan sustained a severed thumb when he was hauling in nets on the night of March 13th, when the vessel was 140 nautical miles west of Eagle Island.

Mr Buchan recalled hauling at about 9.15 pm on March 13th, 2017 after five or six hours on blue whiting. Mr Strachan’s hand got caught, and Mr Buchan managed to get his hand out of his glove but half of his thumb had been crushed and was inside the glove. He said they put the thumb top in the ship’s freezer.

Cork University emergency registrar Dr Mai Nguyen, who was consulted about the injury on the night of the call-out, told the inquest she felt the decision to task had been made before she was called. She described the injury as “minor”, and said she would not have sent the Irish Cost Guard as there was no hope of re-attaching the severed thumb and they were far from the coast. 

A recording of calls between the Kings Cross vessel, Malin Coast Guard and Dr Nguyen confirmed this at the inquest.

After Dr Nguyen advised skipper, William Buchan on how to handle the casualty, she asked the radio officer if a “medevac” was being carried out and he said it was.

The inquest also heard that in the minutes before the Rescue 116 helicopter was due to land at Blacksod lighthouse helipad to refuel, visibility "dropped fast".

Lightkeeper Vincent Sweeney described how in the minutes before Rescue 116 was due to land to refuel, visibility "dropped fast", to the point that "you'd hardly see your arm in front of you".

The bodies of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy were recovered after the crash, but winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith are still missing in spite of extensive searches.

The inquest was formally opened in April 2018 but was adjourned - after a brief sitting and issue of death certificates - to allow for completion of the Air Accident Investigation Unit report and Garda investigations.

The Garda investigation was completed in April 2019 and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but no prosecutions were recommended.

There were 42 recommendations in the 350-page Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report - 19 applying to the air crew’s employer, CHC Ireland, which holds the Irish Coast Guard contract for four helicopter search and rescue bases.

The AAIU report found the “probable” cause of the crash was a combination of poor weather, the helicopter’s altitude and the crew being unaware of a 282 ft obstacle – as in Blackrock island – on a pre-programmed route guide to Blacksod.

Read the RTÉ News report here

Published in Coastguard
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The Irish Coast Guard has said that a fixed-wing aircraft assisting in the search for a solo sailor participating in the OSAR transatlantic race last weekend was despatched by the British authorities.

It was responding to queries about whether the Air Corps had been considered for top cover in the multi-agency rescue, which involved a 14-hour-long mission for the RNLI Achill lifeboat as Afloat reported here.

The Defence Forces press office has confirmed that no request was received for the Air Corps to assist in the operation, which began on Saturday morning last when MRCC Dublin received a request to assist in locating the yacht, Cariberia.

The Air Corps had a fixed-wing aircraft available, and would have been able to respond if requested, the Defence Forces press office said.

The yacht with one sailor on board was competing in the OSTAR race from Plymouth in Britain to Newport Rhode in north America.

In a statement on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard, the Department of Transport said that the vessel’s last known position was approximately 175 nautical miles northwest of Downpatrick Head in Co Antrim.

“Shortly thereafter the vessel indicated an intention to return to the UK,” the statement said.

“Subsequently all contact was lost with the vessel. MRCC Dublin requested a communication search [should] be initiated by MRSC Malin Head as it was suspected the vessel could be off the northwest coast of Ireland,” it said.

“MRSC Malin Head commenced the communication search on medium frequency 2182khz, VHF Ch16, Navtex and by trying to contact the vessel by mobile phone,” it said.

“A UK Coastguard fixed wing aircraft R99 was also despatched by UK authorities to assist in the search,” it said.

“ On Sunday, the aircraft spotted the vessel approximately 32 nautical miles west of Achill Island, Co Mayo, and MRSC Malin Head tasked R118 from Sligo along with Achill island lifeboat,” it said.

“R118 made contact with the skipper who advised that the vessel had lost all power. The Achill island lifeboat proceeded to the vessel's position and secured a tow line,” it said.

The lifeboat towed the vessel overnight to Clare Island, Co Mayo, arriving safely on Monday morning shortly before 9 am, and the yachtsman was reported to be in “good spirits” after his ordeal.

The Achill Trent class lifeboat with coxswain Dave Curtis included mechanic Michael Cattigan, Terry Hogarth, Ken Quinn, Ivan Swarbrigg, Stephen McGreal and Thomas Ruddy on board.

Winds were northwesterly winds with force of three to four sea conditions which began to calm during late morning, according to the RNLI.

Published in Coastguard
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In the lead up to the May bank holiday weekend, the Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland have issued a joint water safety appeal, asking people to take some basic steps to stay safe, as incidents continue to occur as the weather improves and more people visit waterways nationwide or participate in coastal and inland aquatic activities.

There has been a seasonable increase in the overall number of search and rescue incidents with activity levels similar to recent years. The three organisations are drawing particular attention to the need for people involved in sea kayaking and similar activities, to receive proper training before going on the water, to carry a reliable means of calling for help and to tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back.

Water temperatures remain cold even at this time of year and Cold Water Shock can affect everyone. The three organisations advise everyone intending to take part in any water-based activity or coastal walks to take some basic steps in advance to keep safe.

If heading out on the water or visiting the coast:

  • Always check the weather and tides
  • Carry a reliable means of raising the alarm (i.e. VHF radio or phone)
  • Tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back
  • Wear a suitable Personal Flotation Device on the water
  • Watch out for incoming tides to avoid getting cut off. With High Tides ranging from midday to early evening depending on the part of the coast, it is important that people check before walking along the coast.

If you are swimming:

  • Water temperatures are still cold at this time of the year, consider wearing a wetsuit to stay warm
  • Acclimatise slowly
  • Wear a bright swimming cap and consider a tow float to increase your visibility
  • Never swim alone and always ensure that your activity is being monitored by a colleague

Micheál O’Toole, Irish Coast Guard Operations Manager, said: ‘It is important to have a means of communication if engaging in any water-based activity. When boating, carry a VHF radio, backed up by flares, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). Never solely rely on a mobile phone.’

He added ‘that prior to undertaking any boat activity please ensure that equipment is fit for purpose and that a shore-based contact is aware of your plans and estimated duration.’

Kevin Rahill, RNLI Water Safety Lead, added: ‘Many people will be taking to the water for the first time this year and this is a good time to think about checking your equipment, especially your lifejacket. We recommend that people get their lifejackets serviced annually. Not everyone intends to end up in the water. If you fall in unexpectedly, remember to ‘Float to Live’ – lie on your back and spread your arms and legs, gently moving them to keep afloat. Keep floating until you feel your breath coming back before calling for help or swimming ashore if nearby.

‘For visitors and people new to our shores, the RNLI has a range of translated safety resources in many languages which are available to download here: https://rnli.org/safety/multi-lingual-resources

Roger Sweeney, Water Safety Ireland’s Acting CEO, cautions: ‘Muscle cooling due to hypothermia is a factor in many drownings. Swim within your depth and keep it short as warm air does not mean warm water, especially in May. Children require close, constant, uninterrupted supervision. When shoreline walking, beware of being stranded by incoming tides. Many recently arrived Ukrainians have never visited a beach and are unfamiliar with such stranding risks. Please help to keep them safe by reaching out in your community with the translated advice at; www.watersafety.ie/ukraine ’

If you see somebody in trouble on the water or along the coast, or think they are in trouble; Dial 112 or use VHF radio CH 16 and ask for the Coast Guard.

Published in Coastguard

The Dun Laoghaire Coast Guard team was tasked to assist National Ambulance Service (NAS) with a casualty on a yacht at Dun Laoghaire Harbour on St Stephen's Day.

The RNLI Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat and Dublin Fire Brigade also attended. The casualty was treated on scene by the inshore lifeboat crew and staff at the town marina until paramedics arrived.

The casualty was then stretchered to an awaiting ambulance.

While packing up after the incident, a member of the public alerted the Coast Guard to someone who had fallen on the road near the marina. An ambulance was already called for by other members of the public but the Coast Guard team provided initial first aid treatment and care until they arrived. 

The Irish Coast Guard, a Division of the Department of Transport has vacancies for Watch Officers at its three Marine Rescue Coordination Centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co Donegal and Valentia, Co Kerry. The IRCG provides a nationwide maritime emergency service as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

Watch Officers are responsible for watch-keeping on the marine emergency frequencies and are required to act as Search and Rescue Mission Co-ordination Officers (SMCs) and Marine Alert and Notification Officers. They process marine communication traffic, respond to ship casualty and pollution incidents, monitor vessel traffic schemes and coordinate Coast Guard aviation operations.

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 3 pm on Thursday, 6th January 2022.

For more information and how to apply, visit: https://bit.ly/Afloat_Ad_WatchO

The Public Appointments Service is committed to a policy of equal opportunity and encourage applications under all nine grounds of the Employment Equality Act.

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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.

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John O’Mahony, Chairman of the first representative association for Coast Guard volunteers, says that “Personnel issues are the worst failing in the Coast Guard. It’s like a blind spot.”

He was Deputy Officer-in-Charge of the Toe Head Unit, originally the ‘Coast and Cliff Rescue’ before the Coast Guard was re-named and amalgamated with the Glandore Unit in West Cork. Toe Head is on the coastal edge south of Castletownshend and Glandore in West Cork.

O’Mahony runs Belco Marine Electronics Ltd., in Skibbereen and has experience in the fishing industry and the Defence Forces.

The Coast Guard is a vital lifesaving service. Its Volunteers are crucial to its successful operation. Still, the Volunteer issues are a cause for concern when a Unit like that at Doolin is taken off its operational role because members resigned. Catriona Lucas, who died during a search operation in Kilkee, was a member of the Doolin Unit. The new representative association was publicly launched in Kilkee.

Reporting issues in the management and operations of the Coast Guard has been a challenge. I have had many calls, some supportive, others with information and some rather vitriolic, condemning media reports and denying any personnel problems.

John O’Mahony told me on my Maritime Ireland Radio Show that the new association is now seeking “an urgent meeting” with Transport Minister Eamonn Ryan and Minister of State at the Department, which has responsibility for the Coast Guard, Hildegarde Naughton.

Listen to my Podcast with John O'Mahony here

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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After decades of searching, researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Coast Guard have located the shipwreck of the former U.S. Revenue Cutter, Bear.

The wreck of the Bear, which was lost at sea in 1963, is about 90 miles south of Cape Sable in Nova Scotia.

It was considered an amazing coincidence when the wreck was one of two targets initially located during an expedition two years by the current Coastguard cutter, also named Bear and which it was decided to explore further by USCG and NOAA teams this year by the larger and better equipped USCG's ocean-going buoy tender, Sycamore, with an advanced remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with high-resolution underwater video cameras to to document the "unidentified wreck".

The team was able to collect evidence to positively identify the wreck.

Considered one of the most historically significant ships in U.S. and Coast Guard history, USRC Bear was built in Scotland in 1874 and purchased by the U.S. government in 1884.It was originally put into service by the U.S. Navy during the Arctic search for the Greely Expedition, where she earned her initial fame as the vessel that rescued the few survivors of that expedition. In 1885, Bear was transferred from the Treasury Department for service in the Arctic as a Revenue Cutter, where she patrolled for 41 years. After serving in the Greenland Patrols during World War II, the Bear was decommissioned in 1944 and was lost at sea while being towed to Philadelphia by a private party in 1963.

Researchers have been searching for the Bear since 1979. In 2007, a search was coordinated by the U.S. Navy but was ultimately unsuccessful. In recent years, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have teamed up with other partners to locate the wreck site. The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress in 1790, operating under the Department of Treasury and later merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.

Published in Historic Boats
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Bundoran RNLI was involved in the rescue of a woman who got into difficulty off the Main Beach in Bundoran early yesterday morning (Sunday 10 October).

The volunteer crew were requested to launch their inshore lifeboat by Malin Head Coast Guard shortly after 8 am following a report that a swimmer was missing off the Main Beach. The alarm was raised by a member of the public.

Weather conditions were poor at the time with fresh winds and rough seas.

The lifeboat helmed by Richard Gillespie and with three crew members onboard, launched immediately and made its way to the scene where on arrival they observed that the casualty had managed to make her way back to shore but was exhausted from doing so. Prior to the lifeboat arriving, a member of the public who spotted the casualty in difficulty, grabbed a life ring and went into the water knee deep to meet the casualty and help her.

Two lifeboat crew members went ashore and began to administer casualty care while Bundoran RNLI’s shore crew and members of the public also assisted.

The Irish Coast helicopter, Rescue 118 from Sligo, was also tasked and when it arrived, the woman was subsequently transferred and airlifted to Sligo University Hospital as a precautionary measure.

Bundoran RNLI volunteer Killian O’Kelly is reminding anyone planning on entering the water at this time of the year to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe: ‘This was the second call out for Bundoran RNLI in just over a week to swimmers who got caught in rip currents and thankfully in both cases, everyone is safe and well. However, we want to remind anyone planning a trip to a beach or entering the water, that weather conditions have changed now that summer is over. There is more sea swell and more wind so the risks as a result can increase. Seasonal lifeguards that would have been patrolling the beach during the summer, are not there during the autumn and winter months so it is important to be extra cautious. If you are going swimming, check the weather forecast and tide times in advance and try not to go alone. Always consider using a tow float and wear a bright coloured cap to increase your visibility.

‘Avoid areas where you see breaking waves unless you have the experience or knowledge of the beach you are on. Rip currents can be difficult to spot and are notoriously dangerous. Even the most experienced beachgoers and swimmers can be caught out by rips and our advice if you do get caught in a rip, is don’t try to swim against it or you will get exhausted. If you can stand, wade and don’t swim. If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore. Always raise your hand and shout for help. If you see someone who you think might be in trouble, don't delay, dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard.’

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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A delay in using night vision goggles purchased by the State for Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter crews has been criticised in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) annual report.

Although over 4.3 million euro was paid by the Department of Transport to CHC Ireland in 2013 to ensure night vision imaging systems (NVIS) capability, only one of four search and rescue bases had been approved for this as of June 2021, the C&AG’s report for 2020 states.

The C&AG notes that a March 2010 report, which was prepared before the tender process for the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter contract, had recommended helicopters be fitted with an NVIS system.

That 2010 report also recommended that night vision goggles and crew training should be provided when funding became available.

“In 2013, the Department of Transport paid €4.305 million to the company providing SAR in Ireland to ensure the five helicopters used for the service are equipped with NVIS capability,” the C&AG states.

“ Another €527,000 was paid in 2015 for 24 sets of night-vision goggles,” it says, and an initial payment of €1.714 million was made in 2018 for training that began in November 2019.

“The night vision goggles would remain the property of the Coast Guard and, on expiry of the current contract, the goggles would continue to be available for use by SAR crew,”the C&AG says.

It notes the department expects the training to be completed by 2022. Sligo is the only SAR base so far approved for NVIS capability by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

The C&AG notes that it will be “some time before all the bases are operating in the same way”.

The Department of Transport told the C&AG that visual reference to the pilots’ outside world is essential for safe and effective flight.

During daylight hours, the pilot relies heavily on the out-the-windshield view of the airspace and terrain for situational awareness, it explained.

“ During night flying, the pilot can improve the out-of-the-windshield view with the use of a NVIS. Overall, NVIS as an additional aid to navigation and search, in suitably equipped aircraft using appropriately trained crews enhances operational effectiveness and safety for both SAR and helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) operations,” the department said.

It said that NVIS have been shown to pick up small lights, such as lights on lifejackets, hand-held torches and distant vehicles at much greater ranges than the naked eye.

“ When operating overland, NVIS assist the crew in navigating, seeing and avoiding terrain and obstructions as well as being able to identify survivors earlier than with the naked eye,”the department said, and can increase the crew’s overall search capability as NVIS enhances visibility.

The department said that NVIS can provide a “back-up to the forward-looking infrared system (FLIR) if the FLIR suffers an unserviceability in-flight”.

It said that NVIS can assist in identifying suitable landing sites more easily under SAR flight rules. This will also enable the helicopters to access the offshore islands that are without aviation infrastructure such as Inishbofin for medical evacuations under SAR flight rules.

It said that during night-time commercial air transport operations (i.e. HEMS incidents), landing is only permitted at company approved surveyed sites, but NVIS has the potential to remove this restriction and allow crews to land safely at sites which have not been surveyed.

“Overall, the use of night vision aid technology increases night-time situational awareness for pilots and technical crew,”the department said.

It also said that use of night vision goggles “markedly decreases the possibility of collisions with terrain or manmade obstruction”.

In its response to questions raised by the C&AG, the department’s accounting officer said that “of necessity, the implementation of the NVIS has been done on a phased basis”.

“Clearly, training can only take place when the helicopters are correctly equipped and goggles are available to use. Regrettably, the timelines have been far longer than original anticipated,” the department said.

It said the Irish Coast Guard had “consistently pressed the company to deliver the training as quickly as possible, to explore all possible options and to engage with the IAA throughout to determine whether certain elements could be accelerated, all with due regard to safety and to ensuring that the core SAR availability was unaffected”.

It also said that re-fitting the helicopters to make them compatible with NVIS operations “does not confer a competitive advantage to the company” in bidding for the new SAR contract.

The C&AG said that “ significant payments were made from voted funds as long ago as 2013, and the planned capability has not yet been delivered across the service”.

“On that basis, I am not persuaded that good value for money for the taxpayer has been achieved from this expenditure,” he said.

Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts chairman Brian Stanley welcomed the report and noted it highlighted the “wastage of public money” associated with night vision capability within the Irish Coast Guard.

The full report can be read here

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The Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's fourth 'Blue Light' service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

On average, each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

Irish Coastguard FAQs

The Irish Coast Guard provides nationwide maritime emergency response, while also promoting safety and security standards. It aims to prevent the loss of life at sea, on inland waters, on mountains and in caves; and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The main role of the Irish Coast Guard is to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction. It has three marine rescue centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co Donegal, and Valentia Island, Co Kerry. The Dublin National Maritime Operations centre provides marine search and rescue responses and coordinates the response to marine casualty incidents with the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Yes, effectively, it is the fourth "blue light" service. The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for the coastal area between Ballycotton, Co Cork and Clifden, Co Galway. At the same time, the MRSC Malin Head covers the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle. Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Dublin covers Carlingford Lough, Co Louth to Ballycotton, Co Cork. Each MRCC/MRSC also broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and MF radio, including navigational and gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings.

The Irish Coast Guard handles about 3,000 marine emergencies annually, and assists 4,500 people - saving an estimated 200 lives, according to the Department of Transport. In 2016, Irish Coast Guard helicopters completed 1,000 missions in a single year for the first time.

Yes, Irish Coast Guard helicopters evacuate medical patients from offshore islands to hospital on average about 100 times a year. In September 2017, the Department of Health announced that search and rescue pilots who work 24-hour duties would not be expected to perform any inter-hospital patient transfers. The Air Corps flies the Emergency Aeromedical Service, established in 2012 and using an AW139 twin-engine helicopter. Known by its call sign "Air Corps 112", it airlifted its 3,000th patient in autumn 2020.

The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is responsible for the Northern Irish coast.

The Irish Coast Guard is a State-funded service, with both paid management personnel and volunteers, and is under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is allocated approximately 74 million euro annually in funding, some 85 per cent of which pays for a helicopter contract that costs 60 million euro annually. The overall funding figure is "variable", an Oireachtas committee was told in 2019. Other significant expenditure items include volunteer training exercises, equipment, maintenance, renewal, and information technology.

The Irish Coast Guard has four search and rescue helicopter bases at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, run on a contract worth 50 million euro annually with an additional 10 million euro in costs by CHC Ireland. It provides five medium-lift Sikorsky S-92 helicopters and trained crew. The 44 Irish Coast Guard coastal units with 1,000 volunteers are classed as onshore search units, with 23 of the 44 units having rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and 17 units having cliff rescue capability. The Irish Coast Guard has 60 buildings in total around the coast, and units have search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles or quads, first aid equipment, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Community Rescue Boats Ireland also provide lifeboats and crews to assist in search and rescue. The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the Garda Siochána, National Ambulance Service, Naval Service and Air Corps, Civil Defence, while fishing vessels, ships and other craft at sea offer assistance in search operations.

The helicopters are designated as airborne from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours, and 45 minutes at night. The aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, on inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains and cover the 32 counties. They can also assist in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and can transport offshore firefighters and ambulance teams. The Irish Coast Guard volunteers units are expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time of departing from the station house in ten minutes from notification during daylight and 20 minutes at night. They are also expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by day and 75 minutes at night, subject to geographical limitations.

Units are managed by an officer-in-charge (three stripes on the uniform) and a deputy officer in charge (two stripes). Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a range of maritime skills, while certain units are also trained in cliff rescue.

Volunteers receive an allowance for time spent on exercises and call-outs. What is the difference between the Irish Coast Guard and the RNLI? The RNLI is a registered charity which has been saving lives at sea since 1824, and runs a 24/7 volunteer lifeboat service around the British and Irish coasts. It is a declared asset of the British Maritime and Coast Guard Agency and the Irish Coast Guard. Community Rescue Boats Ireland is a community rescue network of volunteers under the auspices of Water Safety Ireland.

No, it does not charge for rescue and nor do the RNLI or Community Rescue Boats Ireland.

The marine rescue centres maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites around the Irish coastline and a digital paging system. There are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. Does Ireland have a national search and rescue plan? The first national search and rescue plan was published in July, 2019. It establishes the national framework for the overall development, deployment and improvement of search and rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue Region and to meet domestic and international commitments. The purpose of the national search and rescue plan is to promote a planned and nationally coordinated search and rescue response to persons in distress at sea, in the air or on land.

Yes, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for responding to spills of oil and other hazardous substances with the Irish pollution responsibility zone, along with providing an effective response to marine casualties and monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations. It provides and maintains a 24-hour marine pollution notification at the three marine rescue centres. It coordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans.

The first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die on duty was Caitriona Lucas, a highly trained member of the Doolin Coast Guard unit, while assisting in a search for a missing man by the Kilkee unit in September 2016. Six months later, four Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew – Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith -died when their Sikorsky S-92 struck Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on March 14, 2017. The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew were providing "top cover" or communications for a medical emergency off the west coast and had been approaching Blacksod to refuel. Up until the five fatalities, the Irish Coast Guard recorded that more than a million "man hours" had been spent on more than 30,000 rescue missions since 1991.

Several investigations were initiated into each incident. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was critical of the Irish Coast Guard in its final report into the death of Caitriona Lucas, while a separate Health and Safety Authority investigation has been completed, but not published. The Air Accident Investigation Unit final report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has not yet been published.

The Irish Coast Guard in its present form dates back to 1991, when the Irish Marine Emergency Service was formed after a campaign initiated by Dr Joan McGinley to improve air/sea rescue services on the west Irish coast. Before Irish independence, the British Admiralty was responsible for a Coast Guard (formerly the Water Guard or Preventative Boat Service) dating back to 1809. The West Coast Search and Rescue Action Committee was initiated with a public meeting in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in 1988 and the group was so effective that a Government report was commissioned, which recommended setting up a new division of the Department of the Marine to run the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC), then based at Shannon, along with the existing coast radio service, and coast and cliff rescue. A medium-range helicopter base was established at Shannon within two years. Initially, the base was served by the Air Corps.

The first director of what was then IMES was Capt Liam Kirwan, who had spent 20 years at sea and latterly worked with the Marine Survey Office. Capt Kirwan transformed a poorly funded voluntary coast and cliff rescue service into a trained network of cliff and sea rescue units – largely voluntary, but with paid management. The MRCC was relocated from Shannon to an IMES headquarters at the then Department of the Marine (now Department of Transport) in Leeson Lane, Dublin. The coast radio stations at Valentia, Co Kerry, and Malin Head, Co Donegal, became marine rescue-sub-centres.

The current director is Chris Reynolds, who has been in place since August 2007 and was formerly with the Naval Service. He has been seconded to the head of mission with the EUCAP Somalia - which has a mandate to enhance Somalia's maritime civilian law enforcement capacity – since January 2019.

  • Achill, Co. Mayo
  • Ardmore, Co. Waterford
  • Arklow, Co. Wicklow
  • Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
  • Ballycotton, Co. Cork
  • Ballyglass, Co. Mayo
  • Bonmahon, Co. Waterford
  • Bunbeg, Co. Donegal
  • Carnsore, Co. Wexford
  • Castlefreake, Co. Cork
  • Castletownbere, Co. Cork
  • Cleggan, Co. Galway
  • Clogherhead, Co. Louth
  • Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway
  • Courtown, Co. Wexford
  • Crosshaven, Co. Cork
  • Curracloe, Co. Wexford
  • Dingle, Co. Kerry
  • Doolin, Co. Clare
  • Drogheda, Co. Louth
  • Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
  • Fethard, Co. Wexford
  • Glandore, Co. Cork
  • Glenderry, Co. Kerry
  • Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Greencastle, Co. Donegal
  • Greenore, Co. Louth
  • Greystones, Co. Wicklow
  • Guileen, Co. Cork
  • Howth, Co. Dublin
  • Kilkee, Co. Clare
  • Killala, Co. Mayo
  • Killybegs, Co. Donegal
  • Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford
  • Knightstown, Co. Kerry
  • Mulroy, Co. Donegal
  • North Aran, Co. Galway
  • Old Head Of Kinsale, Co. Cork
  • Oysterhaven, Co. Cork
  • Rosslare, Co. Wexford
  • Seven Heads, Co. Cork
  • Skerries, Co. Dublin Summercove, Co. Cork
  • Toe Head, Co. Cork
  • Tory Island, Co. Donegal
  • Tramore, Co. Waterford
  • Waterville, Co. Kerry
  • Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Wicklow
  • Youghal, Co. Cork

Sources: Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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