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Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to welcome you along today to the signing of a new 10 year contract between my Department and CHC Ireland, for the provision of the Coast Guard’s helicopter search and rescue service from 2012.
I am pleased to see so many of our search and rescue partners in attendance today. It is through the commitment of all our colleagues that the Irish Coast Guard continues to provide its important service to the highest international standards.
One of the main resources available to the Coast Guard to respond to such incidents, are these helicopters strategically located at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, on a 24/7 365 basis.
The principal contribution of the helicopters is to locate persons in distress or imminent risk, to provide immediate medical treatment where required, and to evacuate them to an appropriate place of safety.
In 2009 the Coast Guard responded to 1,900 incidents, during which 3,000 persons were assisted and 154 lives saved. Out of these 1,900 incidents, the search and rescue helicopters were tasked over 500 times.
The services provided by the helicopters extend even further than their all-important life-saving duties. They carry Dublin Fire Brigade personnel, HSE triage and treatment teams, and ships’ pilots, to ships at sea. They carry equipment to fight marine pollution, and pumps to ships taking on water. They assist the Principal Response Agencies in major emergency situations, and work with the RNLI, other rescue boat operators, and mountain and cliff rescue teams.
Of significant importance is that they provide an emergency service for the communities on the islands off the west coast.
This new contract that I am signing today, represents a stepped improvement in the capacity, range, speed and capability of Ireland’s search and rescue service. The major change will be the replacement of the Sikorsky S61 aircraft, with the Sikorsky S92A new technology aircraft. It will be more dependable and require less maintenance. The improved ability to stay on scene longer, search using improved radar, night-lighting and infra-red, the ability to fly in cloud and reduced visibility, better hover performance, better medical equipment and qualifications and the sophisticated mission planning and tracking systems of the helicopters will contribute to the possibility of successfully rescuing those in distress day or night.
The S92 is specifically configured for search and rescue operations with a radius of operation of 270 nautical miles. The S92’s large 1.8 metre high cabin includes a rear ramp for the loading of fire fighting and mountain rescue teams, stretchers, incubators and other bulky medical equipment.
The Coast Guard of my Department has been working with CHC Ireland since 2002. With the signing of this new 10-year contract, we look forward to continuing this positive working relationship into a new decade. Indeed, we are planning to host a public competition to give permanent names to these five helicopters, and donate the funds we receive to the Lifeboat organisation.
I have absolutely no doubt that many, many lives will be saved over the next decade as a result of this Government’s commitment to the Coast Guard, and our investment in this search and rescue contract at a time of financial difficulty.
So I am very proud to be here today to sign this contract, and welcome in a new generation of search and rescue helicopters to service the Island of Ireland from 2012.