Satellite error caused delay in search for boat


AN INACCURATE coding on a satellite distress beacon caused a significant delay to the search and rescue of seven crew from an Irish fishing vessel, according to the official inquiry.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board’s report into the loss of the MFV Discovery off the southwest Irish coast two years ago concludes that the crew of seven owe their lives to the fact that the incident occurred in daylight and calm seas.

The vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) did begin transmitting when the boat capsized off the southwest on January 29th, 2007. However, the transmission was traced initially to a completely different boat, which was tied up in port in Arklow, Co Wicklow.

The Irish Coast Guard was able to resolve the position for the signal and diverted an Air Corps Casa fishery patrol aircraft to the sea area to search.

Some two hours and 20 minutes after the first satellite alert, the Air Corps sighted a life raft and debris. However, the patrol aircraft was not equipped for a sea rescue of this type. A further 90 minutes after that, an oil tanker in the area, MT Commander, picked up all seven men and treated them to reduce the risk of hypothermia.

The board’s report recommends the “urgent” initiation through legislation of a register of EPIRBs, including those owned personally, along with a matching database.

It also found that none of the crew had been wearing personal flotation devices when working on deck before the capsize, during loading of a catch.

A worker on board owed his life to the “selfless action” of a crewman who gave up his lifejacket for him, it notes.

The board says that the service agent for the EPIRB distress beacon had a “casual procedure” for recording call signs matching to particular boats, when the beacons were submitted for servicing or encoding.

It says that this has been “rectified with a more formal procedure”.