Coast Guard delays publishing external review after volunteer’s death

‘Much concern’ about the Irish Coast Guard’s management of its Kilkee unit

Caitriona Lucas, the Irish Coast Guard volunteer who died when a rigid inflatable boat flipped during a search operation at Kilkee, Co Clare

Caitriona Lucas, the Irish Coast Guard volunteer who died when a rigid inflatable boat flipped during a search operation at Kilkee, Co Clare

 

The Irish Coast Guard has said it will not be publishing an external review of its volunteering activities before the Marine Casualty Investigation Board completes its inquiry into the death of Doolin member Caitriona Lucas.

The review by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency was requested after Ms Lucas died when a rigid inflatable boat capsized off the Clare coast on September 12th, 2016.

The 41-year-old, a librarian and mother of two, was one of the most experienced members of the Irish Coast Guard’s Doolin unit.

The coast guard’s Doolin station is to be named after her at a ceremony on Saturday, and an anniversary Mass will take place, which will be attended by her husband, Bernard, and the couple’s two children.

The British review of aspects of Irish Coast Guard management is one of a series of inquiries initiated after Ms Lucas died while assisting the Kilkee unit in search of a missing man.

Two separate inquiries are being conducted – by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority – the latter as it was deemed a workplace incident.

A Department of Transport spokesman said it did not envisage the British agency review “being available until after the MCIB [report] is published”, and said it was a “more general review of Irish Coast Guard operations, focusing on volunteers’ activities”.

Casualty board report

The marine casualty board issued an interim report on Monday, stating that its investigation is “ongoing”. Under its enabling legislation, it “shall endeavour” to publish a report of a marine casualty within nine months of its notification, but may publish “one or more” interim reports.

The one-page interim report outlines the sequence of events, after the coast guard in Kilkee was tasked by the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre at Valentia to provide search-and-rescue volunteers at the cliffs to the southwest of the town, close to Foohagh Point, from September 9th.

This was in response to reports that a missing person may have fallen off the cliffs, it says.

The Kilkee station provided both cliff-top search teams and boat crew on September 9th-12th.

The report states that Irish Coast Guard volunteers from the Doolin station assisted Kilkee volunteers when the search resumed on September 12th.

The Delta rigid inflatable boat was on its second search of the day – having initially undertaken an early-morning launch – when it capsized.

The volunteers, including Ms Lucas of Doolin, and Jenny Carway and coxswain James Lucey of Kilkee, had been at sea for more than 2½ hours when the capsize occurred while searching a cove to the east of Foohagh Point.

“The Delta RIB capsized, throwing all three crew members into the water,” the report states.

It adds that a full-scale search-and-rescue operation began “immediately” and one of the crew members was picked up by a Garda Síochána rib and a second crew member was rescued by an Irish Coast Guard search-and-rescue helicopter.

‘No confidence’

Ms Lucas was also taken from the water by a search-and-rescue helicopter and later died. The report states that the missing man – later named as David McMahon from Lissycasey – was found by Civil Defence units in nearby Intrinsic Bay.

A former mayor of Kilkee and founder of the original Kilkee Marine Rescue Service, Manuel di Lucia, says there is still “much concern” about the Irish Coast Guard’s management of its Kilkee unit.

“People in Kilkee have no confidence in the service, as it cannot muster a fully experienced crew with adequate local knowledge,” Mr di Lucia said.

The Department of Transport did not respond to a request for comment.

A Liscannor stone commemorative plaque will be erected in memory of Ms Lucas at Doolin station on Saturday to honour her service over 10 years.

The Irish Coast Guard is also making small copper effigies of Ms Lucas, and the statuettes are to be circulated to the 43 coastguard stations around the country.

Mr Lucas said that the commemorative plaque at the Doolin station for his late wife “is a lovely gesture” as “it is where Caitríona worked and volunteered”.

Mr Lucas,who is also an experienced Irish Coast Guard volunteer at Doolin and who returned to search-and-rescue missions shortly his wife’s death, participated in the search for missing crew after the Rescue 116 helicopter crashed with the loss of four lives off north Mayo on March 14th.