I thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation to attend here today. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with the committee on what we do, the work programme ahead of us and the challenges we face as Ireland’s search and rescue, ship casualty and pollution response service. Before taking questions from members, I would like to take a few minutes to set out the international context of our work, the overview of our remit, our organisation and the challenges we face.
The International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea, SOLAS, relating to search and rescue services, provides that each contracting government undertakes to ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination in its area of responsibility and for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts. The Coast Guard's role is to discharge Ireland's search and rescue, SAR, obligations by implementing the national SAR plan and the national oil spill contingency plan for all incidents occurring in the maritime domain, or as otherwise requested by SAR authorities in other domains, such as on land, in the air or indeed at our next door neighbours in the UK. Under the framework for emergency management, the Coast Guard is nominated as one of the State's principal emergency services, along with An Garda Síochána, the fire service and the ambulance service. The framework assigns the Coast Guard responsibility for co-ordinating the response to marine incident outside port limits, except in the case of search and rescue, when all marine areas including ports are under its remit.
On marine pollution, we have a suite of legislation, the Sea Pollution Acts 1991 to 2006, under which the Minister for Transport has appointed officers of the Coast Guard as authorised officers to enable them to carry out their duties in cases of maritime casualties to prevent or minimise damage from pollution where these casualties pose a threat of major harm to the coastline and related interests. The Sea Pollution Act also implements the framework for the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation. OPRC, which establishes measures for dealing with marine pollution incidents nationally and in co-operation with other countries.
The Sea Pollution Act requires a national oil spill contingency plan, along with county council and port authority contingency plans, in accordance with the regime set out in the International Convention on Oil Pollution Prepardness, Response and Co-operation, OPRC. This includes risk assessments exercising. Additionally, European Communities (Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Information System) Regulations 2010, gives the Coast Guard powers to act in maritime casualties and ships requesting a place of refuge. The Coast Guard also provides a maritime assistance service to vessels at sea in need of assistance.
I will talk about where we are today. The organisation stands at approximately 82 full-time staff at five locations around the country and approximately 900 Coast Guard volunteers at 44 locations, all of whom are working together to save lives at sea and protect the marine environment from maritime casualties. Earlier this year, the Coast Guard intervened in a number of marine casualties, most notably the MV Lilly B off Hook Head. In 2020, the Coast Guard responded to 2,600 incidents.
The Coast Guard attaches particular attention to what it categorises as lives saved, which means assistance provided that prevented a loss of life, severe risk to life or protracted hospitalisation. In 2020, the Coast Guard recorded that 391 individuals were categorised as lives saved. In quarter three of this year, the Coast Guard responded to 1,089 incidents and saved 121 lives.
Actions included co-ordinating incidents in the search and rescue co-ordination centres at Dublin, Valentia and Malin, deploying on scene; rescuing persons in distress; training and exercising with other principal emergency services; managing and supporting the Coast Guard volunteer units; maintaining the marine radio infrastructure; procurement and management of stores and services; providing assistance to other mariners and the public; supporting the Department's work to keep essential goods moving; and supporting the HSE during the pandemic.
In performing our responsibilities, we provide a variety of services. We provide the marine radio distress listening service; we co-ordinate search and rescue, SAR; we monitor maritime traffic within the traffic separation schemes off Tuskar and Fastnet lighthouses; we provide a marine assistance service; we monitor the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ, for ship casualties; we provide a national marine radio network for sending out safety messages and navigation warnings; we operate the automatic identification system with transponders for aircrafts that are accepted for ships; and we provide support on request to statutory agencies, bodies and emergency services.
To carry out these functions, the Coast Guard is organised into four sections. I will start with Coast Guard operations. We have three rescue co-ordination centres, RCCs. which are based at Dublin, Valentia and Malin Head. These centres are responsible for listening to the stress frequencies, responding to 999 calls and for search and rescue co-ordination. They provide maritime safety broadcasts such as weather and navigation warnings, respond to ship casualty operations and investigate pollution reports. The current staffing complement of operations are 57 staff members, which includes 51 members to maintain a 24-7 watch coverage at these three centres. Although there are 57 staff members, at each of these three centres there are three people on watch 24-7; it takes that number of staff to maintain that standard of manning.
To respond to the marine incidents on the coast, the RCCs have a number of resources to call upon, including the Coast Guard rescue helicopters. Coast Guard helicopter services are provided under contract by the company CHC Ireland, operating a fleet of Sikorsky S-92 helicopters out of four bases in Dublin, Shannon, Waterford and Sligo. Helicopter services are on 15 minutes' notice by day and 45 minutes' notice by night. In 2020, they were called out 781 times. In quarter three of this year, which was a busy period for us, there were 315 missions, of which 137 were search and rescue in the maritime area and 55 were medical evacuations from offshore islands. With search and rescue inland, we responded with assistance from An Garda Síochána on 78 occasions. We also assisted the National Ambulance Service on 19 occasions.
Another service we can call upon to assist us in search and rescue is the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, RNLI. The RNLI is categorised as a declared resource to the Coast Guard which means that each individual station can be directly requested to respond to individual incidents. The RNLI maintains 38 lifeboats on the island of Ireland and is manned by volunteers. In 2020, we called it out 783 times.
We have 44 Coast Guard units around the coast, and in 2020 we called on them 1,270 times. Their basic function is search on the coast, and some of them have a boat rescue function, a cliff function and they have unmanned aerial vehicles, UAV, that is, drones, for aerial searches.
The Coast Guard units and supports section is responsible for the management, resourcing and training of the volunteer Coast Guard units. The volunteer units provide local maritime emergency response. There are 44 Coast Guard units around the coast, made up solely of volunteers from the local communities. There are approximately 900 volunteers in all. The Coast Guard units provide a coastal search capability on the shore. In addition to the coastal search, some units are trained to provide cliff rescue, boat rescue and also UAV search capability, as I mentioned earlier.
The Coast Guard units are also available to enhance community resilience during emergencies such as Storms Emma or Ophelia, in supporting the principal response or principal emergency services. The volunteer units are managed by the Coast Guard units and supports section, which includes six staff on the coast managing the volunteer units directly and four staff in Dublin, supported by a further seven staff from the maritime strategy and governance division in the Department. Each Coast Guard volunteer unit is composed of a volunteer officer in charge, OIC, deputy OIC, training officer, equipment officer, administration officer and education officer. That is how they are organised. The complement of each unit ranges from 12 to 25 volunteers, depending on their range function.
The engineering and logistics section manages the radio communications infrastructure in the communication centres and also the radio aerial infrastructure around the coast to maintain marine VHF and HF coverage in the search and rescue region. VHF channel 16 and HF frequencies are used for distress listening and calling and working channels; that is what the radio network is for. The engineering section also manages the Coast Guard stores in Blanchardstown. There are nine staff employed in this area with another two staff in the pipeline.
The Coast Guard safety, quality and compliance section's responsibility is to integrate all Coast Guard processes into a single management system, thereafter called the quality management system, QMS. Once established, it will ensure the Coast Guard operates in compliance with each QMS component. Doing so aids in ensuring operational consistency and provides Coast Guard stakeholders and those at the receiving end of SAR services assurance that the organisation is being managed in accordance with best practice in both safety and service delivery.
The Coast Guard's success depends largely on the goodwill of volunteers from the RNLI and from its own Coast Guard volunteers to give of their time and become professional responders in maritime lifesaving situations. In return, the Coast Guard provides its volunteers excellent training and equipment to carry out that task.
Recent tragic accidents have been difficult for the organisation. We mourn the loss of close and valued colleagues and friends. I would like to take this opportunity to extend again our sympathy to the families of Rescue 116 and to Mr. Bernard Lucas and family. We are also compelled to honour their memories by delivering a world class search and rescue, maritime casualty and pollution response services.
I hope this provided a quick overview of who we are and what we are about. I am more than happy to take questions from the committee.