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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 gov.ie - Safety on the water (www.gov.ie). 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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Valentia Coast Guard was alerted by a concerned member of the public yesterday afternoon that a person had fallen into the water near Culoo Rock on the western side of Valentia Island.

The incident occurred at around 4:50pm on the same day. In response, the Coast Guard issued a broadcast to all craft in the area and dispatched the Valentia Lifeboat, Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter R115, and Iveragh Coast Guard Unit to the scene.

Fortunately, the casualty was able to keep afloat until the lifeboat arrived, allowing them to recover the individual safely onboard.

The Irish fishing vessel 'Saveur Du Monde' was also present at the scene of the incident. Subsequently, the R115 helicopter winched the casualty from the Valentia Lifeboat and transferred them to University Hospital Tralee.

Thanks to the swift response and coordinated efforts of the Coast Guard and other units, the individual was rescued and received the necessary medical attention.

This serves as a reminder of the importance of remaining vigilant and informed of emergency services in the area.

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An Irish Coast Guard helicopter which had to make an emergency landing earlier this year may have been affected by turbulence from the Sperrin mountains, an investigation has found.

The report by the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says that the helicopter pitch increased slightly before reducing, and the helicopter began to accelerate and exceeded its maximum speed.

The incident occurred on the afternoon of February 5th 2023, when the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter with four crew had departed from Sligo, Ireland, to rendezvous with a lifeboat near Portrush at approximately 1500 hrs.

The aircraft encountered unexpected severe turbulence approximately five nautical miles east-northeast of the City of Derry Airport.

The helicopter diverted to City of Derry airport and landed with no injuries recorded.

Damage (possibly pre-existing) to the helicopter resulted in the replacement of the stabiliser strut, aft tail drive shaft bearing support and forward tail drive bearing support

“An overspeed inspection of the helicopter identified three items which were rectified by the replacement of components,” the AAIB report says.

“The helicopter returned to service two days later. The manufacturer’s representative believed the findings likely pre-existed the overspeed event,” it says.

“Analysis of meteorological reports suggested that the helicopter ( EI-ICU) probably flew through mountain waves associated with the Sperrin Mountains, creating the turbulence which affected the helicopter,” it says.

“ Moderate turbulence was forecast in the region and discussed in the pre-flight briefing, but analysis of subsequent meteorological information suggested that mountain wave activity was present at the time of the event,” it states.

The helicopter returned to service two days after the event.

The full AIIB report is here

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CHC Ireland has claimed there was “political interference” in the tender for the new Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter contract.

The Sunday Business Post reports that High Court filings by the company make this claim.

The company confirmed last month that it had initiated a High Court challenge to the validity of the tender procedure for the new contract, quoted at 670 million euro ex-VAT over ten years.

The company also claims there was a conflict of interest relating to a decision to award the contract to Bristow Ireland Ltd, and argues that it should be set aside.

Over 140 people have been employed by CHC Ireland at the four bases over the past 20 years of the current contract, which cost 60 million euro annually.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has confirmed Bristow Ireland Ltd as the preferred bidder for the new contract from 2025.

Bristow Ireland Ltd is a subsidiary of the Bristow group, which runs search and rescue services for Britain, the Netherlands and the Falkland Islands.

When confirming the High Court challenge, CHC director of operations and accountable manager Ireland Rob Tatten said that “upon considering the outcome of the tender process as notified to CHC, CHC is concerned that there are a number of flaws in the conduct of the competition”.

“In view of the strict time limits in Irish law for taking steps to protect our rights, we were left with no option but to initiate proceedings to challenge the outcome of the process,” Tatten said.

Read more in the Sunday Business Post here

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The Department of Transport has refuted claims by legal representatives for Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas’s family that it had attempted to obstruct the inquest into her death.

As The Irish Independent reports, the resumed preliminary inquest in Kilmallock, Co Limerick on June 12th was told that it was “staggering” that key evidence had not yet been provided to Ms Lucas’s family.

Doolin Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas died after a Kilkee Coast Guard unit RIB, which she was crewing on, capsized during a search for a missing man on September 12th, 2016.

Maritime lawyer Michael Kingston, representing the Lucas family, questioned the whereabouts of the helmet, life jacket and dry suit which were worn by Ms Lucas.

He also said that the family had not yet received audio and visual recordings of the rescue attempt.

Simon Mills, senior counsel representing the Department of Transport, refuted Kingston’s claim that a letter was sent from the department to the coroner, John McNamara, saying it wanted an inquest carried out in a certain way and that it would decide what evidence would be produced.

The coroner said he would write to the office of the Chief State Solicitor, who was also represented in court, requesting that all relevant evidence, including audio and visual recordings from the day, as well as any available drone footage, be provided to the inquest. It has been set for November 27th next.

Read more in The Irish Independent here

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