Eastern European criminals behind 'search-and-rescue' heists
The country's oldest voluntary marine search group has become the latest victim of organised gangs who are targetting potentially life-saving outboard engines and equipment.
Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue, in Co Tipperary, is 60 years in existence and its 16 members work voluntarily on behalf of families of people missing at sea and on inland waters all around Ireland. Their specialised skills mean they are in constant demand and this year have carried out searches all around the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
The rescue group were providing safety support for a charity triathlon last weekend when the engine of their inflatable dingy, which was tied up in the town's marina, was stolen.
They were able to recover the boat downstream, but the stolen Yamaha outboard engine will cost around €4,000 to replace.
It is not the first time the rescue team have had equipment stolen and the volunteers warned the thieves could be endangering lives.
Spokesman Michael Hickey told the Sunday Independent: "The boats were on the marina because of the charity swim and one was taken. We found it but the engine was missing. We work all over the country and we don't get any funding from any government agency.
"We have a secondhand shop in the town and people have been very good. We are in a premises at the moment and we are hoping to raise money to buy it. This year we have been all over; Galway, Limerick several times and in Strabane in Northern Ireland. We were a good while in Union Hall when the trawler sank (five men were lost when the Tit Bonhomme sank in January 2012). We had been in Galway at the time looking for a 19-year-old and a 40-year-old who were missing and had to go to Union Hall.
"Other rescue people have had equipment stolen. The lads in New Ross Rescue have had stuff stolen a while ago."
In the past year the rescue group has carried out searches in Clonmel, Waterford, five searches in Limerick, a three-week search in Galway, a 17-day search in Banagher, Derry, Lifford, Enniscorthy, Union Hall and Strabane on five occasions. Last year the group recovered 13 bodies and took one person alive from the river Suir, between Clonmel and Fiddown.
The latest theft comes after yet another summer of organised outboard and marine equipment theft, much of which is believed to have been stolen by Eastern European gangs, including men believed to have military logistical training. In the past two months the gangs have struck across the country, stealing powerful outboards which would take up to four men to lift. One 100-HP outboard was taken from a boat yard in Skibbereen, Co Cork, last month.
Seven outboards were stolen in another overnight robbery of the Irish Olympic rowing headquarters at Ovens, Co Cork, at the end of May. The engines were valued at around €25,000.
It is strongly believed the gang operates from a central location, where engines and other equipment are loaded into containers for transport to Eastern Europe. A container with engines and equipment stolen here and on its way to Poland was stopped by police on the French-Swiss border two years ago.