Minister Varadkar commends Coast Guard teams for saving 161 lives in 2012

8% increase in incidents compared with 2011


2012 is Coast Guards busiest year since its foundation


Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has commended Coast Guard Units and volunteers across Ireland for their hard work and commitment in assisting 2,593 people and saving 161 lives this year.


The Coast Guard statistics to Saturday 28th of December detail the assistance provided in 1,963 incidents and show about an 8% increase over 2011. This means that 2012 is the Coast Guards busiest year since its foundation. The previous highest number of incidents was in 2007 when the Coast Guard responded to 1,961 incidents. The statistical average since 2000 has been 1,820 per year.


The Minister was speaking at a joint Coast Guard/RNLI New Year training exercise in Howth today (Sunday). “The Coast Guard performs an essential role all year round. I want to extend my sincere thanks to every staff member and volunteer for their efforts during 2012, and to their families who support them at every step,” Minister Varadkar said.


“Funding for the Coast Guard has been protected for the second year running in the Budget. Similarly, funding for the RNLI and Mountain Rescue will be maintained at current levels through to 2016. These are essential services and much of the cost is met by volunteers. But I particularly want to pay tribute to the huge number of volunteers who save lives every week of the year. Without these volunteers, it simply wouldn’t be possible to provide the same level of emergency response.”


These volunteers include 900 in the Coast Guard, 2,000 in the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, 300 community rescue boats and 500 mountain and cave rescue volunteers. They provide a 24 hour on-call service to respond to emergencies at sea, on our cliffs and coasts.


Minister Varadkar confirmed that a major water safety initiative will be launched this year, including a publicity campaign, new safety signs at slipways and piers, and a Safety on the Water website. RTE’s Search and Rescue programme, which involves the Coast Guard, will also promote water safety.


He also re-affirmed that the three existing marine Rescue Co-ordination Centres, which play an important role in responding to the thousands of incidents, will remain open following a review. This brings certainty to an issue which has caused much local concern in recent years.


Note for Editors

The statistical average of Coast Guard incidents per year since 2000 is 1,820. This year’s increase reflects the increasing role and importance of the Coast Guard helicopters and volunteer Units in assisting the other blue light agencies, most notably the HSE and An Garda Siochana. The Coast Guard also assisted in 82 mountain rescue incidents so far this year which is the highest on record.


Of the 1,954 incidents (as at 26 December) so far the Coast Guards National Maritime Operations Centre in Dublin handled 871, Valentia Coast Guard MRSC 690 and Malin Head Coast Guard MRSC 393. The Minister’s recently announced that he proposes that the three centres will remain open and that none will be closed. Rather, through the utilisation of the most modern communications and IT infrastructure across a single national Coast Guard network, the Minister will be proposing that the centres will be more closely aligned and integrated which will include a rebalancing of workload across the three Centres.


Although the number of incidents are up by about 8% the number of persons assisted is significantly down. This is reflective of three things. Fewer incidents with larger vessels who would have higher numbers of crew and passengers, a tightening of the descriptive narrative on the definition of persons assisted and an increase in assistance inland to single person casualties for the HSE’s National Ambulance Service.


Lives saved have remained reasonably constant at 161 so far this year. ‘Lives saved’ means that the life would have been in all probability lost but for the intervention of the Coast Guard and its declared rescue resources.


Highest number of incidents with merchant vessels since 2002 which also recorded 77 incidents. This is considered to be as a result of improved reporting procedures and vessel traffic monitoring and an increase in passing traffic rather than any lowering of standards or increase in risk posed by merchant vessels.


The Coast Guard assisted An Garda Siochana on 158 occasions. This is a slight increase on last year but a new record. This reflects a policy of increased Coast Guard utilisation in missing person searches and of our helicopters inland to the scene of accidents or inaccessible areas.


This has already been the busiest year on record for three categories of resources:
Coast Guard Volunteers: 925 taskings for our Coast Guard coastal and inland voluntary Units reflect increased assistance and builds on the previous record of 912 in 2011. The statistical average number of taskings since 2000 has been 684 per year. This increase reflects the tasking of multiple Units to the Tit Bonhomme tragedy in January this year and the increased use of the volunteers in assisting An Garda Siochana in missing persons searches. This has included the going live of three Coast Guard volunteer Units with side scan sonars to assist in locating bodies in rivers, canals and inlets.


Rescue 115/Charlie Golf: The Shannon Coast Guard helicopter has already recorded 191 missions this year beating its previous record of 181 missions and may reach 200 by year’s ends. This increase reflects the use of the new S92 helicopter, call sign Charlie Golf, in assisting the National Ambulance Service in a trial emergency aeromedical service for the West and South West. This has involved mission in transporting seriously ill time critical patients to hospital from remote locations or from the scene of serious accidents. The trial will continue in 2013 and also involve the Sligo Coast Guard helicopter from mid-year.


Voluntary CRBI Lifeboats: The Community Rescue Boats of Ireland (CRBI) launched their lifeboats to 169 incidents coordinated by the Coast Guard so far this year up from an average of 96 per year. This not only reflects the increase use by the Coast Guard of Community lifeboats but the addition of Waterford City CRBI to the group of declared teams.


Regrettably the number of hoax calls remains unacceptably high at 325. Another sad statistic is that the Coast Guard recovered 88 bodies this year which is also the highest on record. Yearly averages are in the region of 63.


Significant events in 2012

Some of the most significant incidents this year included the Union Hall search for five missing persons from the Tit Bonhomme fishing vessel in January. The Coast Guard received tremendous cooperation from the various agencies, and particularly from the local community, as well as volunteers from all over the country who freely gave their time to join in the search for the missing people.


The new Sikorsky S92 helicopter came on service in Shannon on the 1st July 2012. This is the first new aircraft ever used by the Coast Guard and has been brought in to replace the S61. The S61 helicopter type, currently used for SAR, first flew in 1962.


The Coast Guard helicopter in Waterford, which turned 50 years old this year, will also finally go out of service in the latter half of 2013 as all four Coast Guard bases convert to new technology helicopters. 2012 also marked ten years of Search & Rescue helicopter services at Waterford Airport.


Minister Varadkar opened the new Coast Guard Stationhouse in Goleen for the local volunteer Unit on Saturday the 30th of June. The new station at Crosshaven was completed on the 15th of November and is expected to be formally opened on the 5th of April next year. Killybegs Coast Guard stations building on the new pier is well underway and will be completed by the middle of next year. Next stationhouse proposed for construction will be in Doolin County Clare.


The Coast Guard has continued to improve its service, interoperability and burden sharing with its partners. The Coast Guard also launched a new Emergency AeroMedical Service (EAS) service last July and has completed nearly 100 missions. This service will expand further in 2013.


Date: 30. 12. 2012