Poignant 2017 for crews
Coast Guard pays tribute to all involved in effort to find missing members
In an end of year commentary the Coast Guard has thanked the general public, and the many statutory and voluntary bodies that assisted with the search for the crew of R116 following the shocking accident that occurred off Blackrock County Mayo on the morning of 14th March 2017, resulting in the loss of all four crew.
The Coast Guard's Rescue helicopter crew R118, based in Strandhill was involved in the airlifting of the injured fisherman that fateful night and also in the subsequent search for the missing crew members.
The Coast Guard is mindful of the devastating pain and loss that is felt by the Fitzpatrick, Duffy, Smith and Ormsby families and also acknowledges the resilience shown by helicopter crews, staff at the marine rescue coordination centres and volunteer teams in working through the loss while continuing to deliver maritime Search and Rescue and other services to the wider community.
Overall the Irish Coast Guard coordinated some 2500 incidents through its three Marine Rescue Coordination Centres based in Valentia, Malin and its Dublin based Head Quarters, a marginal decrease on the 2016 figure of 2550.
A total of 335 people who were rescued or assisted were categorised as 'lives saved' on the basis that the intervention precluded loss of life or severe risk of loss of life. A total of 3316 people were otherwise assisted.
The Coast Guard noted a slight decrease in Kayaking incidents over 2016 with the Coast Guard tasking rescue units to 37 incidents compared to 45 in 2016; however this year saw the unfortunate loss of two lives related to kayaking. Surfing incidents accounted for 24 tasking's of Search and Rescue Units by Recuse Coordination Centres.
Some Surfing incidents coincided with challenging sea conditions adding another element of danger for rescue crews.
The Coast Guard reminds kayakers, surfers, kite surfers and extreme water sports enthusiasts to ensure they have informed someone ashore of their plans, in particular their estimated return time and to wear the correct personal survival equipment.
Coast Guard units and helicopters assisted with the recovery of 65 bodies as a result of drowning's and other missing person searches, a 30% increase on the 2016 figures.
The Forty Four Nationwide Coast Guard volunteer units responded to 1061 incidents. The units provide; Search, Rescue Boat and Cliff Rescue services in addition to local community support during inclement weather or other emergencies.
These Units also work closely with Coast Guard helicopters in securing Coast Guard helicopter landing sites.
The commitment displayed by the Ballyglass unit in Co Mayo, over a protracted period in supporting the R116 search typifies the professionalism and commitment of the Coast Guards volunteer sector.
Coast Guard Volunteer Boat Units completed 75 Compliance Monitoring Patrols around the coast encouraging water users to wear a personal floatation device as well as provision of safety advice.
Despite this and the continued safety messages from the Irish Coast Guard, Irish Water Safety, BIM and RNLI, the Coast Guard noted that a relatively high number of people assisted during Maritime Search and Rescue Incidents had not been wearing a Personal Floatation Device.
The Coast Guard places great importance on Prevention as the primary strategy in reducing loss of life at sea and its most recent campaign focused on a safety message, emphasising the importance of retaining the ability to stay afloat coupled with a capacity to raise the alarm utilising the theme 'Stay Afloat - Stay in Contact'. Volunteer Coast Guard units conducted water safety campaigns by visiting primary schools in their areas in the lead up to summer school holidays and by attendance at festivals and other events.
Coast Guard Helicopters, operating out of bases in Sligo, Shannon Waterford and Dublin, provided day and night Search and Rescue services throughout the year and conducted a total of 750 missions in 2017 saving 175 people and assisting 316.
The Coast Guard helicopter service, provided under contract by CHC Ireland, also provides aero medical support to HSE conducting 15O such missions in 2017. As part of this service, Coast Guard helicopters transferred 5 paediatric patients to UK for emergency procedures relating to organ transplant.
Deep Sea Diving continues to be a growing sport in Ireland and includes recreational technical diving to wrecks over 50 meters deep with occasional dives down to depths of 120 meters. This activity unfortunately resulted in 2 deaths in 2017 with the Coast Guard Coordinating 15 diving related incidents over the year.
Responses to such activities often involve close liaison with the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency as some of this activity occurs in areas of the UK designated Search and Rescue region that are relatively close to Ireland and thus involve Irish Coast Guard resources or resource sharing.
The Rescue Coordination Centres received 29,145 routine traffic reports from vessels around the Irish Coast in 2017 and broadcast 24,068 Maritime Safety Messages including Sea Area Forecasts, Gale warnings, Small Craft Warnings and Radio Navigation warnings.
The Irish Coast Guard advise all mariners, regardless of vessel size, to ensure that they have a working marine radio on board their craft as the Coast Guard maintains a 24/7 listening watch for distress calls on VHF Ch 16 and MF 2182kHz.
Separately all water based incidents reported on the ECAS 112/99 system are initially relayed to the Coast Guard for initial evaluation and coordination.
The Irish Coast Guard Requested the RNLI to Launch on Service on 828 occasions. Inland RNLI stations based at Lough Ree and Lough Derg on the Shannon were requested to respond to 76 incidents, highlighting the risk associated with inland rivers and lakes.
The Coast Guard has a long established working relationship with An Garda Síochána in assisting with searches for missing persons. This relationship extends to mountain rescue in conjunction with the volunteer mountain rescue teams including provision of helicopter support of searches or casualty evacuation.
Technology continues to pay an important role in safety at sea through the use of PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio beacons). One particular incident resulting in the rescue of two transatlantic rowers some 180 miles off the SW coast in July was made possible by the use of such technology.
Unfortunately, a high proportion of false EPIRB alarms relate to carelessness in disposing of old equipment including when older vessels change hands or are scrapped. The statement concludes with a reminder to all members of the public to observe basic safety when engaged in any water based or coastal activities. The core message from the Coast Guard is;
If you see anybody in trouble, or think they are in trouble on the sea, coast, waterways or on cliffs; call 112 and ask for the Coast Guard.