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The Irish Coast Guard is leading a “large-scale maritime exercise” off the Donegal coast today (Wednesday).

The exercise, called “Blue Hills”, will test major incident plans, it says.

It will also focus on the operational capability and co-ordination of the relevant authorities for a major maritime search and rescue incident, the Irish Coast Guard says.

Agencies involved will include Donegal County Council, the Health Service Executive, Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade, Naval Service, Air Corps, RNLI and others.

The exercise will be conducted in the proximity of Donegal Bay and include both live and virtual participation, it says.

“There will be no disruption to services during this exercise,” it says.

A planned exercise to test drift and tidal modelling software in Galway Bay on Tuesday was deferred due to a resources issue.

The exercise, which aims to simulate an overdue paddleboarder and swimmer, has been rescheduled to a later date.

Published in Coastguard
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A planned exercise to simulate searching for a missing paddleboarder in Galway Bay has been rescheduled to a later date.

The simulated mission involving Irish Coast Guard helicopters and shore units, the RNLI and the Marine Institute was due to take place today, but has been deferred until resources permit.

The aim is to test modelling programmes used by both the Irish Coast Guard and Marine Institute to track drifting objects and pinpoint search areas.

A training exercise has been devised by Valentia Coast Guard which will involve launching a paddleboard with a 60-litre tank - filled to match the weight of a person on board.

A marker buoy simulating a swimmer will also be let out to drift to sea.

After the “paddleboarder” and “swimmer” are reported as “overdue”, a “Securité” alert message will be broadcast.

RNLI and Irish Coast Guard units will be tasked and given areas to search – based on the SARMAP  system which can predict movement of drifting survivors and Marine Institute tidal modelling.

The SARMAP system was used successfully when the Rambler 100 capsized off the Cork coast while competing in the 2011 Fastnet Yacht Race.

Paddleboards were not configured into existing systems when the alert was raised over paddleboarders Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn on August 12th, 2020.

The two women were using inflatable, rather than rigid boards, and had set out from Furbo beach for a short spin. A north-easterly wind them over 17 nautical miles from their original location at Furbo.

They were located clinging to a crab pot marker buoy south by Claddagh father and son fishermen Patrick and Morgan Oliver.

The Galway RNLI inshore lifeboat was not far behind when the two women were located, as the search area had moved further west towards the islands.

The training exercise will be co-ordinated by Valentia Coast Guard and will take place when resources allow.

The Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard Rescue 115 helicopter has been asked to participate, along with the RNLI Aran islands and Galway lifeboats, Costello Bay Coast Guard and Doolin Coast Guard.

  •  This story was updated on May 17 2022 following the deferment of the training exercise
Published in Coastguard
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On 13 March 2017, the Rescue 116 crew of Capt. Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt. Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith took off from Dublin airport just after 11 p.m. for a medical evacuation off the west coast of Ireland. The first indication of disaster came when the crew failed to answer a radio call at 12.46 a.m. Shortly after 2 am on 14 March, sister helicopter Rescue 118 spotted a casualty and debris in the water. There would be no survivors from R116, and extensive searches failed to locate the bodies of two of the four crew.

The crash occurred just six months after the loss of experienced Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas, from Doolin Coast Guard in Co. Clare, and eighteen years after the loss of four Air Corps crew who were returning from a night rescue in thick fog off the south-east coast.

In Search and Rescue, author Lorna Siggins exposes the shocking systemic flaws that led to these tragic deaths, but also looks at successful rescues where, despite all the odds, the courage and dedication of members of the Irish Coast Guard, Air Corps, RNLI, fishing crew and the volunteers who work with them have saved countless lives.

Paperback • €16.95 | £14.99. 336 pages. Preview here. On Sale Now on this link here

Published in Book Review
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Over five years after the fatal Rescue 116 helicopter crash off the north Mayo coast, the inquest is due to resume into the deaths of the four Irish Coast Guard air crew.

Dates of June 1st to 3rd have been set by the North Mayo coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald for the inquest which will be held in Belmullet civic centre.

Families of the four crew - Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith – are expected to attend or be represented at the three-day hearing.

The crash occurred in the early hours of March 14th, 2017 when the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter collided with Blackrock island, 13 km west of the Mullet peninsula, while approaching Blacksod lighthouse to refuel.

The Dublin-based crew had been asked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter which had been tasked for a medical evacuation 141 nautical miles west of Eagle Island. The bodies of the two winch crew have not been found.

It is expected that CHC Ireland, employer of the four air crew, will be represented at the resumed inquest, along with officials from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), the Garda and Irish Coast Guard.

The 350- page final report by AAIU identified "serious and important weaknesses" in management of risk mitigation by CHC Ireland, which holds the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract.

It also identified "confusion at State level" regarding responsibility for oversight of search and rescue operations in Ireland.

The AAIU report highlighted how the Irish Aviation Authority believed the Irish Coast Guard to be responsible for search and rescue oversight, when the Irish Coast Guard did not have this expertise.

The coroner’s office confirmed that the recent publication of the AAIU’s final report – delayed by a year due to a request by CHC Ireland for a review - had allowed the inquest to reconvene.

A preliminary inquest was held on April 12th, 2018 to issue death certificates for all four crew, and was then adjourned.

At the preliminary hearing, AAIU chief inspector Jurgen Whyte said that “everything that could be done was done” to find the two missing crew.

He said the search was “very challenging”, and the helicopter could not have come down in a more difficult location.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Katie Hannon show last year, Ms Fitzpatrick’s father John said the inquest into the deaths of the crew members would give “finality” and would “mean an awful lot” to the families.

Published in Coastguard
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In the lead up to the Easter bank holiday weekend, the Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland have issued a joint water safety appeal and are asking people to take some basic precautions to stay safe when they visit the coast or participate in water activities, be it coastal or inland.

The organisations also extended a warm welcome to new residents and visitors to the island, many of whom may not be familiar with tides and Irish sea conditions and encourage them to seek local advice before engaging in any water or coastal activities. See also www.watersafety.ie/ukraine

Water temperatures are still very cold at this time of year and Cold Water Shock can affect everyone. To avoid this, people should acclimatise to the water slowly to get used to the cold. The Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland advise everyone intending to take part in any water-based activity or coastal walks to make sure they check in advance what they should do 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., phone or VHF radio)
  • 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

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

Irish Coast Guard Operations Manager Micheál O’Toole said, ‘many people will take the opportunity of the Easter long weekend to visit the coast and take part in coastal or water-based activity. Having some basic water safety knowledge in advance could make an enormous difference and even save a life. People need to be mindful that the water is very cold at this time of year, and it is easy to be caught out by tides.’

‘We extend a special welcome to members of the Ukrainian community, and we are mindful that they may be unfamiliar with Irish tides and local currents. To that end we would encourage the wider public to be mindful of this risk and be alert to people recreating in unsuitable areas, especially in areas that can become isolated with changing tidal conditions.

RNLI Water Safety Lead, Kevin Rahill added: ‘By taking a few simple steps, everyone can reduce the risk of an accident in or near 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 have a range of translated safety resources in many languages which are available to download.’ https://rnli.org/safety/multi-lingual-resources

Water Safety Ireland’s Acting CEO, Roger Sweeney, cautions that it is better to be safe than sorry: “Easter is a time when many people enjoy their first swim of the year, but Lifeguards have not yet started the patrols that rescue hundreds every season. Swim with others and keep it short, pay attention to local authority signs, and help to keep Ukrainians in your community safe by prompting them to 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 RNLI Lifeboats
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Crosshaven Coast Guard unit received a call on Saturday afternoon to investigate a boat aground near Drakes Pool in Cork Harbour.

It turned out the boat was actually on its own mooring but had gone aground 'due to astronomically low tides at the moment', according to the Coastguard.

Crosshaven Coast Guard remind readers "if you see something unusual or someone in trouble or think they maybe then don’t hesitate to call 999/112 and ask for the Irish Coast Guard it could save a life!"

Published in Coastguard
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Musician and Doolin Coast Guard volunteer Davy Spillane has settled High Court proceedings pursued against the Minister for Transport and the Irish Coast Guard.

The case arose after the death of Spillane’s Doolin Coast Guard colleague and friend Caitriona Lucas in September 2016.

The settlement has been welcomed by the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers’ Representative Association (ICGVRA) which says it highlights “serious issues” relating to the Irish Coast Guard which “the Government is refusing to face”.

Spillane, who was an advanced coxswain with 20 years’ experience with the Doolin Coast Guard, has declined to comment on the settlement.

Spillane was tasked by Doolin Coast Guard to respond after the neighbouring Kilkee Coast Guard unit’s rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capsized on September 12th, 2016, during a sea search for a missing man.

Ms Lucas, one of Doolin’s most experienced volunteers, had travelled earlier that day by road to Kilkee to assist in the search.

She was in a RIB with two Kilkee volunteers when the vessel capsized in a shallow surf zone and all three were thrown into the water and lost their helmets.

The other two crew were rescued, while Ms Lucas, who was recorded in drone footage holding on to the port section of the RIB but being repeatedly washed off by waves, did not survive.

A postmortem identified a trauma to the side of Ms Lucas’s head at a point where it should have been protected by her helmet. Her lifejacket was also not inflated.

A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) identified a catalogue of safety defects and lack of regulatory compliance, and criticised the Irish Coast Guard for failing to have an effective safety management system in place.

A separate Health and Safety Authority investigation resulted in a file being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which decided no criminal charges should be brought.

The Irish Coast Guard defended its safety-management system at the time.

Legal actions were subsequently filed by a number of Coast Guard volunteers with both Doolin and Kilkee relating to safety and management issues. A case taken by Caitriona’s husband, Bernard, was settled last year,

Volunteers with both the Doolin and Kilkee units claimed that there was no adequate “debrief” after Ms Lucas’s death.

During a survival at sea exercise organised off Doolin pier shortly after the incident, Spillane reported that his drysuit started filling with water. His neckseal subsequently separated from his drysuit.

He made a statement to the safety officer that the personal protection equipment, as in helmet, drysuit and lifejacket, were not fit for purpose.

ICGVRA spokesman Jim Griffin paid tribute to Spillane for taking the case.

The group has sought a meeting with the Minister for Transport and hopes to address the Oireachtas transport committee shortly.

Asked to comment on the outcome of Spillane’s proceedings, the State Claims Agency said it “does not comment on the detail of individual cases”.

The Department of Transport, which also comments on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard, said that “Doolin Coast Guard Unit has been re-constituted on an interim basis to ensure rescue services are available”, and appointments would begin in April for a more “permanent” unit.

The department said that the Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) is “the officially recognised representative body for volunteers in service”, and it declined to respond specifically to the criticisms levelled by the ICGVRA.

“The Coast Guard is currently addressing the suite of recommendations within the Mulvey report in respect of CUAG,” it said.

This refers to a recent report by Kieran Mulvey who was appointed to mediate after six resignations from Doolin Coast Guard last year.

Published in Coastguard
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One of the 21 fishermen feared dead after a Spanish fishing vessel sank off the Newfoundland coast this week was the sole survivor of a dramatic rescue two decades ago off the Irish west coast.

Ricardo Arias Garcia was winched from the Skerd Rocks in outer Galway Bay by the Rescue 115 Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew in October 2000.

The native of Marin in Spain has been named as one of the 21 who died or are missing when the Villa de Pitanxo sank about 280 miles off the Newfoundland coast in rough seas early on Tuesday.

Only three of the 24 crew on board the vessel were rescued, while nine have been confirmed dead and 12 crew listed as missing from the 50-metre (164ft) vessel. The search for the missing 12 was stood down on Wednesday evening.

The Halifax rescue centre involved in the search said the area was experiencing 46 miles per hour winds and sea swells of up to 5.5 m (18 ft) at the time. The Spanish vessel was built to withstand harsh Atlantic weather.

Arias Garcia survived a previous sinking but lost all of his fellow crew when the Arosa sank in a storm off north Galway Bay on October 3rd, 2000.

The Spanish-owned 32 metre-long Arosa, which was registered in Britain, had been fishing for four days when weather deteriorated.

Its skipper was heading for shelter in Galway Bay a force nine gale, blowing to force ten, when it struck the Skerd rocks about nine miles west of the Connemara village of Carna.

Ten of the 13 crew on board were Spanish, two were from Sao Tome island off central Africa and one was from Ghana.

 Ricard Arias Garcia, the Spanish fisherman feared dead off Newfounland, after he survived the Arosa sinking in Galway Bay in October 2000. Ricard Arias Garcia, the Spanish fisherman feared dead off Newfounland, after he survived the Arosa sinking in Galway Bay in October 2000 Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy

A “mayday” alert was issued, the three African crew tried to launch the liferafts, but it proved too difficult as the vessel was wedged between rocks with enormous seas on its port side.

The desperate crew, most wearing lifejackets, clung to the vessel until most were washed away.

Arias Garcia spoke afterwards of how he decided not to wear a lifejacket as he feared it might choke him..

"In between the waves, I tried to look up, calm down and organise myself," he told reporters afterwards in University Hospital, Galway.

"I saw another big wave coming. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When that wave had passed, I felt rocks beneath me. I dragged myself up along the rocks. I looked up and I saw the light of the helicopter."

The crew of Rescue 115 had only 200 to 300 yards of visibility in pitch dark and driving rain, close to a mountainous coast, when they spotted him.

They had already identified liferafts on the water near the Skerd Rocks and could see they were empty.

Arias Garcia was wearing only a t-shirt when the light from the helicopter caught him, clinging to a rock close to the bow of the vessel which was being pounded by heavy seas.

The crew of Capt David Courtney, Capt Mike Shaw, winch operator John Manning and winchman Eamonn Ó Broin winched him on board.

The helicopter crew also rescued the vessel’s skipper. Both men were flown to hospital but the skipper did not survive.

The Shannon crew received a State award for their role in rescuing Arias Garcia.

The RNLI Aran lifeboat, the Cleggan and Costello Bay Coast Guard units and Naval Service divers who searched for bodies were also conferred with marine meritorious awards.

Galician newspaper La Voz de Galicia recalled this week how Arias Garcia, feared lost off Canada, had survived a “shipwreck off Ireland” in 2000.

“Ricardo saw his companions from the Arosa die, and that terrible event marked him. Those who know him say that he enjoyed the sea,” the newspaper reported.

Arias Garcia was one of 16 Spaniards, five Peruvians and three Ghanaians, on board the Villa de Pitanxo which had been at sea for over a month.

The vessel’s owner, Grupo Nores, specialises in catching cod, dogfish and other species found in the North Atlantic.

Published in Fishing

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has bowed to pressure over the future of the Waterford helicopter search and rescue base by amending the tender for the new Coast Guard aviation service.

The amendment will specify four helicopter bases, including Waterford, whereas previously it specified a "minimum of three bases" - prompting criticism by politicans in the south-east.

The Department of Transport has confirmed today that it will notify the market of an amendment to a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ), which was published by the department on December 20th, 2021.

This relates to the procurement procedure for the new Coast Guard aviation service, costing 60 million euro annually. 

Minister for Transport Eamon RyanMinister for Transport Eamon Ryan will specify four helicopter bases in the new contract

CHC Ireland holds the current contract, which can be extended to 2025 if necessary. The new tender is expected to be awarded in March 2023.

The department says the PQQ "will be amended to specify the number and location of search and rescue (SAR) bases to reflect the existing configuration, namely four bases at Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford".

"The amendment will ensure the delivery of wider Government policies concerning balanced and even distribution of State services and investment, particularly the needs of the island and rural communities," the department statement says.

"The new contract is worth an additional €20m per year, as in a total of 800 million euro for ten years"

" It will also support and protect other public policy priorities, such as the State’s response to emerging trade patterns post-Brexit, and priorities under the Climate Action Plan," it says.

" The continuation of the current base configuration will reinforce the Coast Guard’s capability to meet its obligations in the National SAR Plan, the National Oil/ HNS Contingency Plan, and its capacity to support other State agencies, in particular, inland SAR support to An Garda Síochána and provision of air ambulance services to the Health Service Executive, including day and night support to the island communities", it says.

The current ten-year contract was agreed in 2012 at a value of €600m held by Canadian firm CHC (Canadian Holding Company) Ireland. The new contract is worth an additional €20m per year, as in a total of 800 million euro for ten years.

Ireland’s five Coast Guard helicopters around 700 missions per year from four bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, at a cost of roughly €90,000 per flight.

Published in Coastguard

The Irish Coast Guard at Dun Laoghaire Harbour along with the RNLI Inshore boat was tasked to a yacht on rocks just off Sandycove at the Forty Foot Bathing Pace on the south shore of Dublin Bay on Monday afternoon.

The Coastguard reported on social media that with low tide fast approaching, the Inshore Lifeboat Crew (ILB) successfully got the yacht off the rocks in time, along with assistance from other boats, with little or no damage to the yacht".

The yacht then returned to Dun Laoghaire Harbour in the company of the RNLI Inshore boat.

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