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A jury has returned a unanimous verdict of misadventure at the inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Irish Coast Guard advanced coxswain Caitriona Lucas off the Clare coast in September 2016.

The verdict was issued by a jury of four men and three women before Limerick coroner John McNamara at Kilmallock Court on Thursday evening.

Seven recommendations were also made by the jury in relation to safety management, training and equipment used by the Irish Coast Guard.

Ms Lucas (41), an experienced member of the Doolin Coast Guard and mother of two, died after the Kilkee Coast Guard Delta rigid inflatable boat (RIB) she was crewing on capsized during a search for a missing man on September 12th, 2016.

She was the first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to lose her life during a tasking.

Marine expert Michael Kingston, representing the Lucas family, had sought a verdict of unlawful killing.

However, Mr Simon Mills, senior counsel for the Department of Transport and Irish Coastguard, said the verdict of unlawful killing was not one open to a jury in a coroner’s court.

Attending the four-day full hearing, which had been preceded by two preliminary hearings in April and June, were Ms Lucas’s husband, Bernard, son Ben and daughter Emma, father Tom Deely, and siblings Padraig and Bríd, along with long time friend and former Doolin Coast Guard member Davy Spillane.

In a statement afterwards on behalf of the Lucas family, her son Ben said that “the Irish Coast Guard’s failure to have proper safety systems caused my mother’s death”, and “the minister in charge of the transport department in 2012 should be held to account”.

He said there were “critical lessons to be learned”, and the jury had made recommendations that should have been made seven years ago “to protect life”.

Ben Lucas said criticised the delay in holding the inquest, and said that “the preservation and production of evidence has been appalling”.

“Irish Coast Guard management, the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Transport did not act on a critical report in 2012 that instructed them to put in place a senior safety systems manager in the Irish Coast Guard that never happened, and my mother went to help others but was let down so terribly,” Mr Lucas said.

The hearing heard 28 depositions, including evidence that a recommendation for a safety systems manager at the Irish Coast Guard in 2012 was not implemented till 2018.

It heard that “interpersonal issues”, which had been reported to Irish Coast Guard management the previous March (2016), had led to a loss of experienced volunteers at the Kilkee unit – which meant “flanking stations”, including Doolin which Ms Lucas was a member of, were asked to help out.

It heard Ms Lucas was conscious in the water for 17 minutes after the Kilkee Delta RIB was hit by a wave and capsized in a shallow surf zone at Lookout Bay off Kilkee, and that a second RIB owned by the Kilkee unit could have reached the area to effect a rescue of all three on board within 10 minutes.

However, after Kilkee deputy officer-in-charge Orla Hassett called for that D-class rib to be launched, two of her colleagues left the scene. She had to requisition a privately owned vessel which rescued one of the three, Kilkee volunteer Jenny Carway.

In a statement given to the inquest on Thursday (Nov 30), Kilkee volunteer Lorraine Lynch, who had been at the station with Ms Hassett when a “Mayday” alert was relayed, said that she was “told” by Martony Vaughan as officer-in-charge (OIC) “to come with him in the jeep to the cliff walk”.

Kilkee Delta RIB coxswain James Lucey, was rescued some hours later by the Shannon Coast Guard helicopter, which also airlifted Ms Lucas on board earlier and flew her to Limerick University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The inquest heard that the cause of Ms Lucas’s death was due to drowning, but a head injury which could have caused temporary loss of consciousness was a contributory factor.

Two State investigations have already taken place into Ms Lucas’s death, and three years ago the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) directed that no criminal charges would be brought arising from an HSA inquiry.

A separate MCIB report was critical of the Irish Coast Guard’s safety management system and outlined a number of systems and equipment failures in relation to the Kilkee unit.

Summing up for the jury at the inquest in Kilmallock, Limerick coroner John McNamara said it appeared there was a “brain drain” in relation to the Kilkee unit and some “confusion” about the command structure of the unit.

He said that Ms Hassett had put it “quite succinctly” that this was not relevant when three people were available to launch a second RIB to effect a rescue.

He recalled that evidence had been heard about previous recommendations, including those in an appendix to the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inquiry into Ms Lucas’s death relating to a previous incident in a surf zone off Inch, Co Kerry, in 2014.

He said that the Kilkee unit was not aware of those Inch recommendations, and he noted evidence from HSA inspector Helen McCarthy that there was no site-specific risk assessment of the area where the capsize occurred and no map of hazardous areas at the Kilkee station.

Mr McNamara recalled evidence being heard that the radar system on the RIB was not operational, one of its seats was not in commission, and the radio was not working.

He noted that British marine safety expert Nick Bailey had confirmed the equipment was suitable for use in Irish coastal areas, but there was an issue for the Irish Coast Guard with helmets coming off on impact.

Earlier, Mr Bailey said in evidence that the loss of helmets by all three Coast Guard crew after the Kilkee Delta RIB capsized “should raise concerns” with the Coast Guard in relation to their design and whether they were being worn correctly.

Mr Bailey confirmed that Ms Lucas’s drysuit – which the inquest heard earlier in the week to have been taking water when she was recovered - was not available for his inspection.

Mr Bailey told the inquest that he had examined Coast Guard safety equipment, including lifejackets, helmets and drysuits, at the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) on June 12th, 2017, nine months after the incident in which Ms Lucas lost her life.

The inquest had already heard that the HSA was unable to start its investigation until then, when it could establish it had a legal right to do so, and was only given access to one piece of Ms Lucas’s safety gear – as in her drysuit, which it was allowed to photograph only, and which was then disposed of in a skip.

Mr Bailey said that in his assessment, the drysuit and thermal clothing used by the Irish Coast Guard was “appropriate” for the type of work it was doing in Irish waters.

He said that while the type of lifejacket he had examined was a “reasonable compromise” between support and free movement, it would not necessarily keep an unconscious person upturned with a clear airway.

The inquest heard that this Mullion design of lifejackets has since been withdrawn by the Irish Coast Guard..

In his summing up, Mr McNamara said that “it is clear that if Ms Lucas’s helmet had remained on, it may have avoided the head injury that she sustained”.

Mr McNamara said it was “unfortunate” that her drysuit, which had filled with water, was not available for inspection by the HSA or its experts.

The coroner said that “we don’t know what the outcome would have been” if the Kilkee D-class RIB had been launched, but Mr Kingston had established from drone footage that there was a window of 17 minutes.

“Ms Hassett, an experienced volunteer, felt they could have attempted a successful rescue,” he said, and he paid tribute to her presence of mind and that of Garda sergeant John Moloney in requisitioning a civilian vessel which rescued Ms Carway.

“This occurred within an emergency situation, with a lot of pressure on everyone involved,” he said. He also commended those who had recorded the drone footage.

The jury of four men and three women issued seven recommendations related to safety, equipment, training and implementation of previous reviews.

Condolences were expressed to the Lucas family by the coroner, Gardai, legal representatives of both sides and the HSA.

The seven recommendations made by the jury at the Caitriona Lucas inquest are:

  • Each Coast Guard station should take appropriate steps to ensure Irish Coast Guard volunteers are aware of relevant exclusions for Coast Guard vessels and where possible display same clearly at the base station;
  • an immediate ongoing review of training of Coast Guard volunteers/staff should provide up-to-date training for capsize incidents;
  • an ongoing review should take place of the suitability of all safety gear, including helmets, to ensure safety in operational conditions;
  • there should be “urgent” implementation/education of all lessons learned and recommendations of all reviews into Coast Guard incidents;
  • measures should be taken to ensure that all Coast Guard vessels are fitted with voyage data recorders;
  • there should be establishment of an appropriate centralised safety management/portal for identified risk issues on a confidential basis;
  • and the Irish Coast Guard should consider ongoing training for the officer-in-charge (OIC) and deputy OIC “as appropriate” at units.
Published in Coastguard

The continuing inquest into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas off the Clare coast over seven years ago has heard that she was conscious in the water for almost 17 minutes after the RIB she was crewing on capsized.

As The Irish Times reports, Clare Civil Defence member Stephen Hayes described how he flew a drone to try to get visuals on the three crew of the Kilkee Coast Guard RIB.

Two of the three were rescued. Ms Lucas, a highly experienced member of the Doolin Coast Guard who was helping out Kilkee on a search did not survive after she was airlifted from the water.

Hayes said that the time stamp on the video recording of the incident indicated that Lucas lost consciousness at 1.27.50 or almost 1.28 pm, which was almost 17 minutes after the alarm was raised.

Irish Coast Guard volunteer Gary Kiely told the inquest that the Kilkee Coast Guard Unit had been short of members at the time.

At a meeting three days before the incident, Kiely said he suggested approaching some experienced members who had left the unit to return.

He said that Irish Coast Guard manager Micheal O’Toole said he didn’t think it was necessary given the time of year but promised to revisit the issue.

Kiely said that local knowledge was also important as the tide could often come around the headland into Lookout Bay with swells breaking into high waves.

Martony Vaughan, who had stepped down as officer in charge of the Kilkee Coast Guard Unit on September 11th told the inquest he had driven with fellow Coast Guard member Rose Keane to the cliff tops overlooking the scene of the capsizing as soon as the alarm was raised.

Vaughan agreed with maritime expert Michael Kingston, representing the Lucas family, that there was no Irish Coast Guard presence on the water at the scene for a period until the Irish Coast Guard Shannon-based helicopter arrived at 1.38 pm and airlifted Lucas from the water at 1.41 pm.

Read The Irish Times here

Published in Coastguard

The work of the Irish Coast Guard, mountain rescue and community rescue boat teams is profiled in a new series filmed last autumn for TG4.

Tarrthálaithe na hÉireann, an eight-part series, was made by Big Mountain Productions and starts on October 5th on TG4.

It follows the Irish Coast Guard, mountain rescue teams and community rescue boats on call-outs, training and fundraising events.

User-generated content (UGC) was created through wearable tech and drones, the film company says, and it worked with the Valentia Coast Guard station and Rescue 118 crews based at the Irish Coast Guard Sligo helicopter base.

The Costelloe Bay Coast Guard Team appear in episode one of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireannThe Costelloe Bay Coast Guard Team appear in episode one of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireann

Coast Guard units from Mulroy and An Bun Beag in Donegal, Ros an Mhíl in Conamara and Wexford’s Cahore point were involved, along with the Sligo/Leitrim, Kerry, Dublin/Wicklow and the South East Mountain Rescue teams.

Volunteers from the specialist dog rescue unit SARDA, and community inshore rescue teams based at Banna Beach Kerry and Bantry Bay, West Cork are also featured.

Jarlath Folan from the specialist dog rescue unit SARDA 4  appear in episode one of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireannJarlath Folan from the specialist dog rescue unit SARDA 4 appear in episode one of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireann

The series was made with the full cooperation of the Irish Coast Guard and the Department of Transport.

An Bun Beag Coast Guard appear in in episode five of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireannAn Bun Beag Coast Guard appear in in episode five of TG4's Tarrthálaithe na hÉireann

Tarrthálaithe na hÉireann is on Thursdays from October 5th at 8 pm on TG4 and is available on the TG4 player.

Published in Maritime TV

Unions representing Irish Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) air crew and engineers are due to meet Bristow Ireland later this month in relation to employment under the new SAR contract.

Trade union Fórsa, representing air crew, and Unite, representing engineers, expect to meet with Bristow representatives in late September in relation to job guarantees.

This follows a statement by Bristow Ireland earlier this week that it has given a commitment to the Department of Transport that “the company supports the principles of TUPE and that we would fully engage with Fórsa and UNITE [unions] as part of the mobilisation phase of the contract”.

“We are fully committed to establishing pathways for personnel currently servicing the existing SAR contract to join Bristow. We look forward to early engagement with both Fórsa and UNITE,” it said.

Under Transfer of Business (TUPE) regulations applying to Ireland, a new employer is legally obliged to take on the existing employees of the business.

The new employer must take on the employees on the same terms and conditions, except for pensions.

CHC Ireland air crew were so concerned about this that they participated in a safety stand-down on September 8th, where each of four SAR bases went “off-line” for an hour at lunchtime.

“Lack of confirmation re continuity of employment, under TUPE Regulations, for CHC staff has led to elevated levels of stress amongst staff and therefore the safety stand down is necessary at this time,” CHC Ireland said.

Over 140 people have been employed by CHC Ireland at four SAR bases over the past 20 years of the current contract.

Separately, CHC Ireland has confirmed that it is continuing its legal challenge over the awarding of the contract by the Department of Transpo

Published in Coastguard

Bristow Ireland Limited, the company that is set to take over the Coast Guard search and rescue contract in Ireland from October 2024, has pledged to work closely with unions to ensure a smooth transition for staff.

The company has expressed its support for the transfer of undertakings regulations and has committed to engaging with Fórsa and Unite as part of the mobilisation phase of the contract. Bristow has also assured that it will establish pathways for personnel currently servicing the existing SAR (search and rescue) contract to join its team.

In a statement, the company said, "We look forward to early engagement with both Fórsa and Unite."

"Bristow Ireland Limited, which will operate the SAR (search and rescue) contract in Ireland from October 2024, has given a commitment to the Department of Transport that the company supports the principles of TUPE and that we would fully engage with Fórsa and UNITE as part of the mobilisation phase of the contract", the statement said.

As Afloat reported previously, CHC Ireland, which currently operates the Coast Guard search and rescue service, announced last Friday safety stand-downs at four search and rescue bases due to concerns for the health and well-being of staff.

Published in Coastguard
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Irish Coast Guard helicopters will be “offline” from 12 noon to 1400 hours today at all four search and rescue bases, amid concerns among its air crew about future employment.

A statement from CHC Ireland this morning said it was announcing a “safety stand down” for their four all weather search and rescue (SAR) bases in Sligo, Shannon, Dublin and Waterford from 1200 to 1400 hours today,September 8th.

“Due to increased concern for the health and wellbeing of CHC staff following the awarding of the SAR contract to Bristow Ireland Ltd, commencing in July 2025, all four bases will be offline from 12 to 2 pm today. A reduced service will be available during this time,” the statement said.

In a further statement, CHC Ireland said that its  Shannon and Dublin SAR bases would be offline from 12 pm to 1 pm, and Sligo and Waterford would be offline from 1 pm until 2 pm.

"During these times, two helicopters will be online for the duration of the safety stand down," the company said.

“Lack of confirmation re continuity of employment, under TUPE Regulations, for CHC staff has led to elevated levels of stress amongst staff and therefore, the safety stand down is necessary at this time,” the statement said.

TUPE regulations relate to undertakings on transfer of employees to new employers under a 2003 EU regulation.

“ It is incumbent on us to protect the safety and wellbeing of our staff. By taking this necessary measure we can ensure that we continue to operate safely, without outside distractions and remain focused on the life-saving work we do for the Irish Coast Guard “ Rob Tatten, CHC Director of Operations and Accountable Manager Ireland, said in the statement.

CHC Ireland is currently pursuing a legal challenge, following the Minister for Transport’s decision to award a new ten-year SAR contract for the Irish Coast Guard to Bristow Ireland.

Published in Coastguard
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The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) is seeking guarantees from Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that pilots and winch operators flying for the Irish Coast Guard will remain in employment once the contract transfers from CHC Ireland to Bristow.

As The Irish Times reports, Ialpa maintains that the EU Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE) rules apply to the contract.

Under these rules, those 85 air and winch crew already working for the State’s search and rescue service should be able to keep their jobs and seniority once the new operator takes over.

Ialpa is part of trade union Fórsa, and its national secretary Katie Morgan, confirmed to the newspaper that the union had also written to Bristow seeking the same assurances.

Bristow has advertised for captains and first officers for the Irish Coast Guard aviation service, which Mr Ryan has signed the 670 million euro contract for from 2025.

As Afloat reported earlier this week, CHC Ireland is continuing to pursue a legal challenge to the validity of the contract.

The Department of Transport said it hopes there will be “an orderly and seamless transfer of operations between both contractors” and said it recognised “the professionalism and dedication of all personnel engaged in the provision of this essential State service”.

Bristow Ireland told the newspaper there was a lengthy lead-in time before the new contract began, and it was seeking expressions of interest in a small number of posts.

Read The Irish Times report here

Published in Coastguard
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CHC Ireland is continuing to pursue its High Court challenge to the validity of the tender procedure for the Irish Coast Guard’s Irish Coast Guard’s new helicopter search and rescue contract.

The new contract with Bristow Ireland had been automatically suspended after CHC Ireland, the existing holder, announced its High Court challenge on June 14th.

CHC Ireland, which runs four helicopter bases for the Irish Coast Guard at Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford, had said it was “concerned that there are a number of flaws in the conduct of the competition”.

It initiated the legal action after Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan had confirmed that Bristow Ireland, a subsidiary of the US-based Bristow Group Inc, was the preferred bidder for the service to run for ten years from 2025.

The automatic suspension of any further contract procedures kicked in, but was then lifted in July, after the minister applied to the court for same.

This decision was upheld by the Irish court of appeal, allowing Mr Ryan to confirm he was signing the new contract with Bristow Ireland on August 22nd.

His department said that under the new contract, Bristow Ireland Limited would operate six AW189 helicopters from four dedicated bases in Sligo, Shannon, Waterford and Dublin Weston Airport.

It will also have two King Air fixed-wing aircraft at Shannon, for five years, allowing for the possibility that the Air Corps, Ireland’s air defence wing, may then assume responsibility for the fixed wing element.

“The new Irish Coast Guard aviation service will be introduced by Bristow Ireland Limited gradually on a phased basis and will be fully operational by July 2025,”the department said.

CHC Ireland said it was continuing its legal action, but would make no further comment. It is understood a court hearing on the issue may be heard in October.

Published in Coastguard
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Shortly after 1:30pm on Friday, Valentia Coast Guard Coast Guard was alerted by Marine VHF radio (emergency channel 16) to a man overboard incident in Galway Bay.

The Sligo-based Coast Guard helicopter R118, Galway RNLI and Costelloe Bay Coast Guard Unit were immediately tasked to the scene.

The Shannon base Coast Guard Helicopter, which at the time was completing patient transfer to University Hospital Galway, was also placed on standby at Galway.

Shortly after arriving on scene Coast Guard Helicopter R118 located and recovered the casualty, provided immediate medical assistance and transferred the casualty into the care of HSE at University Hospital.

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At the start of the August Bank Holiday Weekend, the Irish Coast Guard has issued a water safety appeal asking people to take precautions to ensure their safety, in, near or on the water, both coastal and inland.

The August Bank Holiday weather begins with a marine small craft warning for the West Coast issued by Met Éireann for winds of force six or higher. People who are planning to participate in coastal and water-based activities are encouraged to check the weather forecast. Plan activities based on the forecasted wind and sea conditions to ensure these activities are safe and enjoyable.

It is important to ‘Be Summer Ready’ and ensure that boats and other water vessels, including kayaks and canoes, are suitable for the forecasted conditions. Ensure that everything is in good working order and that engines have been serviced, with all equipment, particularly lifejackets / personal floatation devices (PFDs), in good condition.

Derek Flanagan, SAR Systems Development Officer at the Irish Coast Guard, commented: “I would like to remind everyone of the need to check the weather and tides before heading out on the water or visiting the coast - there was an unusually wet and windy start to the August Bank Holiday weekend. Exercise caution and take extra time to plan for water-based activities in the coming days, and don’t be tempted to take chances if the weather is not as expected."

"Scuba divers and swimmers should wear brightly coloured swimming caps and use surface marker buoys to improve visibility. Swimmers and divers should be aware of the relatively strong tides over the weekend and plan their activities carefully. Always tell a person ashore of your plans and the time you expect to return, and ensure they know what to do and who to call if you don’t return as planned. Have a plan to call for assistance if anything goes wrong, call early, don’t delay.”

If out on a boat or other water vessel, wear a lifejacket, and carry a reliable means of communication – a VHF radio and ideally a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) with mobile phone back up. Ensure that you tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Please refer to the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft, which can be accessed at - Safety on the water ( This site also provides important information about water safety, weather and tides and what to do in an emergency situation.

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.

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Every Year Ireland's Search & Rescue Services deliver emergency life saving work on our seas, lakes and rivers.

Ireland's Water Safety Agencies work hard to provide us with the information we need to keep safe, while enjoying all manner of water based activities.

There's no better fun than getting out on the water but being afloat is a responsibility we all need to take seriously.

These pages detail the work of the rescue agencies. We also aim to promote safety standards among pleasure boaters, and by doing so, prevent, as far as possible, the loss of life at sea and on inland waters. If you have ideas for our pages we'd love to hear from you. Please email us at [email protected]

Think Before You Sink - Wear a Lifejacket

Accidents can happen fast on water and there may not be time to reach for a lifejacket in an emergency therefore don't just carry a lifejacket - wear it; if it's not on you, it can't save your life.

Irish Water Safety's Safe Boating Alert:

Check condition of boat and equipment, hull, engine, fuel, tools, torch.

Check the weather forecast for the area.

Check locally concerning dangerous currents and strong tides.

Do not drink alcohol while setting out or during your trip.

Carry an alternative means of propulsion e.g. sails and oars or motor and oars.

Carry a first aid kit on board and distress signals (at least two parachute distress rockets, two red hand flares).

Carry a fire extinguisher, a hand bailer or bucket with lanyard and an anchor with rope attached.

Carry marine radio or some means of communication with shore.

Do not overload the boat - this will make it unstable.

Do not set out unless accompanied by an experienced person.

Leave details of your planned trip with someone ashore - including departure and arrival times, description of boat, names of persons on board, etc.

Wear a Lifejacket at all times.

Keep an eye on the weather - seek shelter in good time.

In Marine Emergencies, call 999 or 112 and ask for Marine Rescue.

Lifejackets Checklist

Ensure Cartridges have not been punctured and are secured firmly.

Ensure all zips, buckles, fasteners and webbing straps are functioning correctly and adjusted to fit the user.

Check that fitted lights are operating correctly.

Ensure that Automatic Inflation devices are fully serviced and in date.

Check that the valve or lifejacket is not leaking.