Irish Coast Guard
The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) (Irish: Garda Cósta na hÉireann) is part of the Department of Transport. The Irish Search and Rescue Region, which includes most of the Republic of Ireland and parts of Northern Ireland is the area over which the coast guard has authority. This area is bounded by the UK Search and Rescue Region.
Status and role
Unlike the model in other countries, the coast guard in Ireland does not form part of the Irish Defence Forces. It does however call on their assistance through the use of its Air Corps and Naval assets. It operates as a Division of the Department of Transport under the Maritime Safety Directorate. Together with the Mercantile Marine Office, the Maritime Safety Directorate comprises two main sections, the Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division (MSED) and the Marine Survey Office (MSO):
- The Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division is responsible for maritime safety, security policy (not armed or national security policy, which is exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Defence) legislation (including leisure safety), aids to navigation, corporate governance of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and marine environment protection issues.
- The Marine Survey Office deals with the inspection, survey, certification and licensing of vessels and vessels radio equipment; the examination and certification of seafarers competencies; enforcement of standards by way of audits on organisation and facilities and prosecutions for breaches of regulations. The Marine Survey Office also includes the Marine Radio Affairs Unit (MRAU).
While in some jurisdictions they are the responsibility of the Coast Guard, in Ireland, fisheries patrols are carried out by the Irish Air Corps and Irish Naval Service and drug smuggling patrols by the Irish Air Corps, Customs, Gardaí and the Naval Service. (However, all the above government services can at any time request assistance from each other when needed.) Irish Coast Guard personnel are forbidden from carrying any type of weapons and have no security or defence duties in respect of national police or defence.
The coast guard is however responsible for:
- Search and Rescue
- Marine communications network
- Marine safety awareness
- Pollution and salvage response in the marine environment (the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Dublin coordinates all pollution & salvage control in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).)
Note that not all Irish Coast Guards have enforcement powers – only some officers under warrant.
The coast guard was first formed in Ireland in 1822, while the island was a constituent part of the United Kingdom. During this period it played revenue protection and coastal defence roles, as well as forming part of the naval reserve. In 1923, following the formation of the Irish Free State, the Coast Lifesaving Service (CLSS) was established. This was later renamed the Coast and Cliff Rescue Service (CCRS), before becoming known as the Irish Marine Emergency Service (IMES) in 1991, and finally being renamed as the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) in 2000.
The IRCG operate a number of contracted Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters from bases in Dublin (RESCUE116), Waterford (RESCUE117), Shannon (RESCUE115) and Sligo (RESCUE118).
IRCG helicopters are all contracted from CHC Helicopter and include two types of Sikorsky aircraft. This contract remains controversial and costs the state €50 million per year. A similar SAR contract involving CHC was cancelled in the UK in 2012 as a result of alleged 'irregularities'.
Under the current contract, the previous fleet of Sikorsky S-61N helicopters are being replaced with five newer Sikorsky S-92 helicopters. Four of the S-92 fleet are located at each of the four IRCG bases, with one spare replacement aircraft being rotated between bases (but focused at either Shannon or Waterford as these hangars are large enough to house two Sikorsky S-92 aircraft).
The first operational S-92 helicopter was delivered to the Irish Coast Guard in January 2012 and given the registration EI-ICG. After a period of training and pilot conversion (from the S-61N type), this helicopter was given call-sign "RESCUE115" and replaced the S-61N that was previously based at Shannon. EI-ICG carried out its first SAROP/RESCUE on its first operational day in July 2012, when it brought a casualty to University College Hospital Galway.
The five S-92's have registrations EI-ICG, EI-ICU, EI-ICA, EI-ICR, EI-ICD – with the last letter of each registration spelling out "GUARD". As of October 2013, all the S-92s are in Ireland, with EI-ICU operating as the duty helicopter at Sligo as "RESCUE118", EI-ICR in Waterford as "RESCUE117", EI-ICD "RESCUE115" based at Shannon, and EI-ICA and EI-ICG operating in Dublin (possibly for conversion training). All the old S61N fleet are in Dublin Airport where RESCUE116 is based.
While EI-ICG was delivered as "factory new" from Sikorsky in the US, the other S-92 aircraft are ex-HM Coastguard equipment from the UK. As of July 2013, the final S-92 aircraft, with registration EI-ICD, was reportedly undergoing repainting and fitting at Shannon. However as of October 2013 two of the S-92 aircraft (EI-ICD and EI-ICU) remain in the "retro" livery of UK HM Coastguard – but sporting their Irish registrations.
- "The Irish Search and Rescue Region - Map of Region". Department of Transport. 12 December 2006.
- Lorna Siggins (17 June 2013). "Irish Coast Guard search and rescue fleet renewal extended". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Angus Stickler (8 June 2012). "Corporate Watch - Search and rescue helicopter contracts awarded despite police probe". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- "New Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters arrive into Shannon". The Clare Herald. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- "Department of Transport Press Release – Irish Coast Guard Takes New Sikorsky S-92 On Board". Department of Transport. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- Greg Harkin (14 August 2013). "Woman pilots make Coast Guard history". Independent.ie. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
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