Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Department of Justice, Equality and Defence
Search and Rescue Service
Question 60: To ask the Minister for Defence the extent to which adequate resources and facilities are available to the Navy and Air Corps to facilitate the fullest possible extent of air sea rescue and coastal surveillance activity; if he intends to enhance such activity and procedure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17264/11]
The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. In accordance with the roles assigned to them in the White Paper on Defence, the Air Corps and the Naval Service are committed to providing support to the civil authorities including in relation to search and rescue. In this regard, the Air Corps and the Naval Service provide support to the Coast Guard as the need arises and within their available capabilities. A Service Level Agreement is in place with the Irish Coast Guard which sets out the search and rescue assistance that the Air Corps and Naval Service can provide, within their capabilities, to the Coast Guard. The provision of assistance during mountain rescue operations and fixed wing top cover by the Air Corps Casa aircraft to Coast Guard helicopters is included in the agreement. Assistance that is provided by the Naval Service to the Coast Guard during maritime search and rescue and recovery operations is also covered in the SLA.
In relation to coastal surveillance activity, the Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships. All eight ships are involved in coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State in that part of the seas where State jurisdiction applies.
The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels are deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue or recovery, and drug interdiction operations.
The current Exclusive Fishery Limits, or the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, extend to 200 miles offshore and cover an area of 132,000 nautical square miles. The Naval Service currently patrols the entire 200 mile limit and periodically patrols beyond these limits to protect specific fisheries. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone at any one time. All vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that they also undertake general surveillance, security and other duties while on patrol. A contract was placed last year for the provision of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service, each of which will be almost 90 metres in length. The acquisition of these larger vessels will ensure that the Service can continue to carry out all its taskings in increasingly difficult and dangerous sea conditions in the Atlantic. Preparations for their construction have commenced at Appledore in the UK and the first vessel is scheduled for delivery in early 2014. The second new vessel will follow one year later.
The Naval Service intends to further enhance its surveillance capabilities by utilizing both the Coast Guard's Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system which identifies merchant shipping in and approaching Irish waters.
The two Air Corps Casa aircraft also have an important surveillance capability which offers aerial assistance to the Naval Service in patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone. These aircraft both underwent mid-life upgrades which were completed in 2008 at a cost of €16.5m. The upgrades included the fitting of state of the art surveillance and communication equipment.
I am satisfied that both the Air Corps and Navy have the necessary resources to meet all their operational requirements including the provision of search and rescue assistance to the Coast Guard and surveillance taskings.