The Irish Coast Guard has confirmed that a volunteer unit’s primary search and rescue boat will not return to service until crew members have been fully trained.
The Kilkee unit of the service has a second smaller boat which is available to respond to incidents however it can’t operate in conditions that the main boat often can.
The original Delta rigid inflatable boat (RiB) was destroyed in the same incident that claimed the life of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas in September 2016.
The boat was replaced just a fortnight after the September 12th tragedy but hasn’t been available to respond to emergencies since. The unit’s second smaller D-class boat is operational and available to respond to incidents.
Locals in Kilkee have been calling for full search and rescue resources to be reinstated in the West Clare resort and have called on the Coast Guard to make this happen as soon as possible.
Niall Ferns, Volunteer and Training Services Manager with the Irish Coast Guard said: “Kilkee Coast Guard Unit are currently resourced with a D-Class boat for response to emergencies. The Rib is on station as a training boat and will not be made operational until the unit members have attained the necessary competencies. The Unit will also be required to pass an ORA (Operational Readiness Audit) in line with current Irish Coast Guard national policy.”
“A training Rigid Inflatable Boat (Rib) was replaced at the Kilkee Coast Guard station from September 29th 2016. This boat (Rib) has been assigned to Kilkee Coast Guard Unit as a training boat and will remain non-operational during the training phase. The D-Class boat is currently the Kilkee Coast Guard Unit response boat for emergencies.”
In relation to a tragedy near Kilkee on January 13th last, Mr Ferns said that conditions on the day would have not allowed the RiB to launch even it was available to do so. The 30-year-old man from Hungary, who had been living in Galway, died in hospital after he fell into the sea while taking photographs at Dunlicky near Kilkee.
Mr Ferns said: “The Irish Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 115 from Shannon and the Kilkee Coast Guard Unit were tasked to the incident. The D-Class boat stationed at Kilkee Coast Guard Unit was available to respond however a decision was made not to launch based on a dynamic risk assessment.”
“The sea-state at the time was advised as rough (2.5-4 metres) and moderate swell (2-4 metres) which is beyond the operational parameters of their D-Class. The conditions were therefore deemed unsafe for launching their D-Class boat. The safety of our responders is of prime importance, it should be noted that the sea state would have also precluded the launch of their RiB even if operational,” he added.
Despite not having their main rescue boat available to them, Kilkee unit volunteers have continued to respond to incidents since the September 2016 tragedy. Unit members have responded to search and rescue operations, missing persons searches, ambulance and fire service assist calls including two in the past fortnight.
Last September, members spent two weeks searching for a man who fell into the sea north of Kilkee. The team’s smaller boat was also launched to assist in that operation. The missing man’s body was later found washed up on one of the Aran Islands.