Coast Guard boat had five sig­nif­i­cant faults

Mother of two died while as­sist­ing Kil­kee Cost Guard unit in res­cue mis­sion

The Irish Times - - Front Page - LORNA SIGGINS Ma­rine Cor­re­spon­dent

There were five sig­nif­i­cant faults with the rigid in­flat­able boat (Rib) Caitríona Lu­cas put to sea on as part of an ill-fated Ir­ish Coast Guard res­cue mis­sion off the Co Clare coast just over two years ago, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found.

The Coast Guard ves­sel on which the 41-year-old mother of two lost her life was tak­ing in wa­ter and it had no work­ing radar, ac­cord­ing to a Ma­rine Ca­su­alty In­ves­ti­ga­tion Board re­port pub­lished yesterday.

The 7.9m Delta Rib used in the search mis­sion for a miss­ing man on Septem­ber 12th, 2016, re­quired a min­i­mum of three crew, but one of its three safety seats could not be used and was “taped off” due to air leak­ing from the sus­pen­sion.

In ad­di­tion the echo sounder was not op­er­a­tional and one fixed VHF ra­dio was not work­ing, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found.

All five faults had been re­ported be­fore Ms Lu­cas and two oth­ers set off. The re­port also noted that at least three of the faults had been re­ported be­fore the same Rib went out on an ear­lier search on the same day for the miss­ing man.

The re­port does not state why the faults were not at­tended to be­fore Ms Lu­cas and her col­leagues went to sea.

Ms Lu­cas, who was a highly ex­pe­ri­enced mem­ber of the sep­a­rate Doolin Coast Guard unit, had be­lieved she would be as­sist­ing in a shore search when she left her home that day.

She died af­ter the Kil­kee Coast Guard unit’s Rib was hit by a wave in a surf zone and cap­sized on its re­turn jour­ney.

Thrown over­board

All three crew were thrown over­board and lost their hel­mets; their life­jack­ets were not in­flated and the may­day call was is­sued through the only work­ing ra­dio – a per­sonal VHF ra­dio owned by the deputy coxswain.

The re­port found the Ir­ish Coast Guard does not have an ef­fec­tive safety man­age­ment sys­tem, and said the Kil­kee Rib launched in con­di­tions out­side its op­er­a­tional lim­its.

Minister for Trans­port Shane Ross has pledged to im­ple­ment the find­ings in full.

Minister for Trans­port Shane Ross says he has broad­ened a re­view of the State’s search-and-res­cue frame­work in re­sponse to the highly crit­i­cal find­ings of an in­quiry into the death of Ir­ish Coast Guard vol­un­teer Caitríona Lu­cas.

He has also pledged to en­sure im­ple­men­ta­tion of all rec­om­men­da­tions made by the Ma­rine Ca­su­alty In­ves­ti­ga­tion Board’s (MCIB) in­quiry into Ms Lu­cas’s death.

The mother of two, li­brar­ian and highly ex­pe­ri­enced mem­ber of the Doolin Coast Guard unit was as­sist­ing the Kil­kee unit in a search for a miss­ing man when the unit’s rigid in­flat­able boat (Rib) cap­sized on Septem­ber 12th, 2016. She was the first Ir­ish Coast Guard vol­un­teer to die in ser­vice. Two other crew on board were res­cued.

The MCIB fi­nal re­port pub­lished yesterday was crit­i­cal of the Ir­ish Coast Guard’s safety man­age­ment sys­tem, and cat­a­logued a num­ber of sys­tems and equip­ment fail­ures in re­la­tion to the Kil­kee Coast Guard unit.

It also re­ferred to dif­fi­cul­ties within the unit which were re­ferred to Ir­ish Coast Guard man­age­ment ear­lier that year.

A han­dover of man­age­ment was due to take place at Kil­kee on the day of Ms Lu­cas’s death af­ter a meet­ing be­tween vol­un­teers and Ir­ish Coast Guard of­fi­cials on Septem­ber 9th, 2016.

The fi­nal MCIB re­port found that the Kil­kee Delta Rib was tak­ing in wa­ter, had no work­ing radar, and one of its crew safety seats could not be used on the day of the in­ci­dent.

Faults

Two ad­di­tional faults, in­clud­ing a fixed VHF ra­dio which was not func­tion­ing, were re­ported by a coxswain who had been at sea be­fore Ms Lu­cas and two Kil­kee vol­un­teers set out on a sec­ond search mis­sion on Septem­ber 12th.

Ms Lu­cas, an ex­pe­ri­enced coxswain, had be­lieved she would be as­sist­ing in a shore search when she left her Lis­can­nor home ear­lier that day.

Ms Lu­cas’s hus­band Bernard, a mem­ber of the Doolin unit, said he and his fam­ily would study the re­port’s find­ings over the week­end.

In his sub­mis­sion to an MCIB draft re­port com­pleted dur­ing the sum­mer Mr Lu­cas had queried why the in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not ad­dress loss of hel­mets by all three crew and fail­ure of life­jack­ets to in­flate among other equip­ment is­sues.

He also said that “bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment” in Kil­kee in the pre­ced­ing cou­ple of years had been a “con­tribut­ing fac­tor in this ac­ci­dent” in his opin­ion.

The MCIB re­port does not specif­i­cally ad­dress this, and the for­mer of­fi­cer in charge has de­clined to com­ment on the claims.

How­ever, for­mer Kil­kee mayor Manuel di Lu­cia, founder of the orig­i­nal Kil­kee com­mu­nity ma­rine res­cue ser­vice in 1981, has said he was aware of a loss of highly ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers. “If we had not lost this ex­pe­ri­ence Caitríona Lu­cas would not have been called on to help out,” Mr di Lu­cia said.

He traced the dif­fi­cul­ties back to the Ir­ish Coast Guard’s han­dling of its takeover of the Kil­kee unit in 2013, and said he had emailed then trans­port minister Leo Varad­kar, ask­ing him to in­ter­vene.

Mr Varad­kar replied then that while he ap­pre­ci­ated a changeover of this type might pose some “ini­tial chal­lenges”, he was “sat­is­fied that ar­range­ments are in place to ad­dress any con­cerns”.

“Dur­ing the 32 years of our en­tirely vol­un­tary ser­vice, we had a 100 per cent record, but now Kil­kee has no full sea ser­vice,” Mr di Lu­cia said.

He called on Mr Ross to “get his act to­gether” and re­store a full ser­vice to the coastal town.

Mr Ross paid trib­ute to Ms Lu­cas yesterday.

“She was a self­less mem­ber of a unique group of peo­ple; those men and women who ded­i­cate them­selves to the pro­tec­tion of oth­ers at great risk to them­selves. Caitríona made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice, and her loss has been enor­mous. Coast Guard vol­un­teers, in par­tic­u­lar the di­rect col­leagues of Caitríona in the units at Doolin and Kil­kee, were dev­as­tated at the tragic events that un­folded on that day.”

Train­ing

The Ir­ish Coast Guard said work was al­ready un­der way on de­vel­op­ing an in­de­pen­dently ac­cred­ited ISO safety man­age­ment sys­tem.

It said its boat op­er­a­tions man­ual and train­ing in per­sonal sur­vival tech­niques had also been re­viewed. Re­gional staff had been in­creased from three to six to en­sure a more “ef­fec­tive lo­cal over­sight regime”, and other mea­sures in­cluded a “ma­jor re­newal” of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy sup­port for vol­un­teers, it added.

A sep­a­rate Health and Safety Au­thor­ity in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent is con­tin­u­ing.

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