The proposed closure of a high-profile coastguard station could be a matter of life or death for people at sea.
Valentia Island station is again under threat, and a former lifeboat coxswain has spoken of one valuable aspect that bureaucracy is overlooking in the saving of lives: Local knowledge
Seanie Murphy, who was at the lifeboat helm for 28 years in Co Kerry, is strongly supporting a campaign by the Valentia Save Our Station (SOS) group to oppose a renewed attempt to close the station.
Mr Murphy, who has worked at sea for almost 40 years and is also a qualified trawler skipper, warned that the vast experience of the 16 staff would be lost if the station closed.
“Their ability to communicate with the Spanish fleet that fishes off the West coast is well documented. They do this in highly-charged situations when a wrong command or a language difficulty would make the difference between life and death,” he said.
Mr Murphy recalled a night when the lifeboat was launched to escort a Spanish vessel into Valentia harbour as a crewman needed medical attention.
Conditions outside the harbour were not suitable for the evacuation operation but a local coastguard officer relayed the lifeboat’s directions to the skipper of the trawler in Spanish, asking him to follow the lifeboat into the harbour.
However, at the harbour entrance, the trawler suddenly headed for the lighthouse and came close to grounding. “We then had to contact the coastguard [officer] and immediately he relayed in Spanish for the trawler to go astern. This they did and averted a disaster,” said Mr Murphy.
Another major concern, he maintained, would be the loss of a knowledge base if the station closed.
“That is the names of people that you can contact in an emergency and be on first name terms with them, where trust has been bred over years. It is knowing which response unit to call to a particular area, knowing the area, and where it is located when you sometimes do not get all the details.”
The latest closure threat to the station is seen as another attack on coastal communities which are already suffering a huge decline in fishing and farming along with a fall in population.
Mr Murphy said the SOS campaign was part of a much bigger battle to save coastal communities, pointing out Valentia Hospital was also under threat.
Valentia Coast Guard station handles two thirds of all emergency callouts in the country, covering an area from Youghal, Co Cork, to Slyne Head in Co Galway.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has indicated that the entire coast could be served from Dublin, which would result in the closure of the two remaining manned stations, Valentia and Malin in Co Donegal.
SOS chairman Anthony O’Connell said concern increased after a senior coastguard official reportedly proposed the location of a back-up station in Blanchardstown, in Mr Varadkar’s constituency.
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