The Transport Minister says it is vital that lessons are learned from the deaths of five people during separate coast guard missions as a new oversight plan for search and rescue (SAR) operations in Ireland was published.
The new National Search and Rescue Plan comes on foot of a series of safety recommendations made in the official investigations into the two fatal accidents over the last three years.
Doolin Coast Guard volunteer, Catriona Lucas, died when her rib capsized during a search and rescue operation in Kilkee, Co Clare, on September 12, 2016.
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winch man Ciarán Smith, died when their aircraft, Rescue 116, crashed into an island off Mayo on March 14, 2017.
In its interim report into the R116 accident in March 2018, the Air Accident Investigation Unit recommended that the Transport Minister should carry out a thorough review of SAR aviation operations to ensure that there are appropriate processes, resources and personnel in place to provide effective, continuous, comprehensive and independent oversight of all aspects of these operations.
In December 2018, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board’s (MCIB) report into the circumstances of Ms Lucas’s death identified systemic safety management issues within the Irish Coast Guard.
The MCIB said the Transport Minister should ensure that the criteria for determining the response to recovery operations, as opposed to search and rescue, should be clearly defined and the appropriate responses to developments during an operation should be set out clearly. It also said the criteria for tasking and launching Coast Guard boats should be reviewed and clearly documented.
The new plan published today will replace a 2010 document and will be the baseline guide for all SAR organisations in Ireland. It provides for more explicit governance, assurance and oversight roles across the SAR system.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said it’s about significantly improving the manner in which the state provides and oversees SAR services.
The new plan re-balances the 2010 “maritime-centric” plan to include air and land SAR more comprehensively, and it sets out clearly the role of Irish Aviation Authority and An Garda Síochána.
A new National SAR Committee, chaired by Sir Alan Massey, the ex CEO of the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, has been set up and held its first meeting earlier this month, to provide more strategic coordination, guidance and leadership.
Its members include senior representatives from the Coast Guard, the IAA and the gardaí, their parent departments and other partners in the state and the voluntary SAR sector, including the RNLI.
Work is ongoing to address three outstanding recommendations made by a review group into SAR aviation operations.