Funding for the Coast Guard and the RNLI will be protected at existing levels in 2012, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar confirmed today (Saturday). Speaking during a New Year’s Eve visit to thank volunteers at the Coast Guard Station at Howth, Co. Dublin, Minister Varadkar also confirmed that the Coast Guard would remain within the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport.
Minister Varadkar said: ‘The Coast Guard performs an essential role all year round. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to every member of staff and volunteer for their efforts during 2011. I would also like to express my gratitude to the families of all the rescuers who make it possible for the volunteers to provide this 24 hour commitment throughout the year’.
Coast Guard Director Chris Reynolds confirmed that 2011 was one of the busiest years for the Coast Guard since its foundation. The Coast Guard responded to nearly 2,000 incidents this year, resulting in 163 lives being saved and over 3,300 persons assisted. The Coast Guard helicopters alone performed 551 missions during the year. Mr Reynolds said that staying within the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport would facilitate the Coast Guard in the further development of maritime safety in Ireland, while also retaining its existing networks.
Minister Varadkar confirmed that the Coast Guard will receive €4.37 million for current purposes again this year, not including the helicopter service, and the RNLI annual grant of €150,000 will also be retained in 2012. The Minister has also allocated capital funding to allow the Coast Guard’s aging fleet to be refreshed with new vessels over the next two years. New vessels have already been allocated to Coast Guard Stations at Achill, Bunbeg, Killala, Greencastle, Doolin and Killaloe.
The Minister confirmed that he has given the OPW the go-ahead to tender for a new Coast Guard Volunteer and Pollution Response Centre in Killybegs, Co. Donegal, and he re-confirmed his commitment to proceed with a similar station in Doolin within the life of the capital expenditure programme. 2012 will also see a significant improvement in the provision of helicopter rescue services with the arrival in Ireland of the new S92A Coast Guard helicopter in Shannon at the end of January.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard’s second national telecommunications network has been commissioned, providing a completely independent back-up service for the Coast Guard ship-to-shore communication network.
Mr Reynolds said: ‘Ireland is a maritime nation which has rights over an area of seabed 10 times the size of Ireland. Ninety nine per cent of our trade goes by sea and it’s no surprise that most of our population lives within 30km of the coast. In carrying out our goal to prevent, prepare and respond, the men and women of the Coast Guard staff, its volunteers, our helicopter crews and our partners in the Navy, Air Corps, RNLI, CRBI and mountain rescue, have continued to provide a world-class service. This has only been possible through the incredible service offered by locally-based volunteers nationwide and the commitment of this Government to maintain these essential front line services in difficult times’.
· Some of the most significant incidents this year included the re-floating of the MV Pantenal off Rossaveal, assistance to a tanker in difficulty off Tory Island, the rescue of the crews of the Rambler 100 during this year’s Fastnet race, and the crew of the Irish Fishing Vessel Amy Jane from a life-raft off Donegal;
· The Coast Guard helicopter in Waterford, which is turning 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. These helicopters will be considerably more efficient than the current S61s and will be able to assist the HSE ambulance service with remote area aeromedical services;
· The second national telecommunications network will provide two separate communications services for the entire Coast Guard ship-to-shore nationwide communications network, running independently of each other. The new arrangement means there will be full back-up if either provider experiences difficulties, or if a coordination centre goes offline. Transfer of Malin Coordination Centre to the new system will start in early 2012 and Valentia MRSC in late 2012, providing 100% separation of all communication lines to two separate coordination centres;
· The Coast Guard has continued to improve its service, interoperability and burden sharing with its partners. An Agreement signed with the HSE ambulance service will improve the support and medical care in remote or rural accidents, and in the transport of critically ill patients; an agreement with Irish Lights will support their eNavigation services to shipping; and the Coast Guard concluded an agreement with France on sharing resources for emergency responses, and for undertaking surveillance of potential polluters. This last agreement was followed up with a major international exercise off Roscoff with involvement from the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Corps, Ambulance Service and University Hospital Cork. This exercise was repeated in real life within weeks with the search for survivors after the sinking and loss of six lives from MV Swanland in the Irish Sea in December.