West Cork underwater search & rescue unit needs funds

April 20th, 2018 12:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue chairman Pat Mulcahy training in a full-face diving mask.

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Clonakilty's mayoral council has nominated an underwater search and rescue unit for a community award.

CLONAKILTY’s mayoral council has nominated an underwater search and rescue unit for a community award.

Ten fully-trained and qualified divers currently form the nucleus of the West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue Unit, which was formed following the Tit Bonhomme tragedy.

The unit has been tasked by the gardaí and Coast Guard in searches since the Union Hall tragedy in January 2012 and the Baltimore Beacon tragedy in January 2015.

During both of those tragedies, hundreds of dives were completed by the Navy Dive Unit and the Garda Dive Unit, but they brought home to local divers how important it would be to have a local emergency crew on standby.

Ian Beavon, who is one of the members of the unit, said: ‘It is important to be able to respond at short notice because it could take many hours for the official resources to mobilise. 

‘Some situations are a matter of life and death, depending on how fast the divers can respond.’

Local divers realised that putting a professional structure in place, with a proper logistical back-up and support, would be invaluable.

However, Ian pointed out that the organisation is entirely voluntary, and is run on voluntary contributions, and, in that respect, they are hoping community organisations will think of them when they are fundraising.

West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue is a very active unit and is a member of the Irish Underwater Council. The divers are CFT-accredited divers, are search and recovery (SAR) qualified, and a number are also qualified as diver first responders.  

The unit has been tasked numerous times in the past few years to search for missing people off the coast, in rivers, and lakes, from Cork city to Castletownbere.

Right throughout the year, the crew of 10 continues to train constantly in different weather conditions and is on standby seven days a week so they are available at a moment’s notice to deal with any local emergency.

The unit is capable of searching a large expanse of water in a grid-like formation, as well as other search techniques, but they are hoping to get a €7,000 side-scanner that would help them in their work. 

‘We have a few fundraising projects in the works,’ said Ian, ‘including a quiz night at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen, but we would welcome any ideas, suggestions or contributions.’

Steve Redmond – the only man in the world to complete the Seven Oceans Challenge – will also be doing a long-distance swim to help raise funds for the unit sometime later this year.

The establishment of a professional unit means that they can – in times of a major emergency – liaise with SAR divers from every corner of the country.

‘You just have to remember the heroic efforts in Union Hall and Baltimore to realise that there is a selfless quality to the work that these divers are prepared to do,’ said Ian. 

‘But it goes both ways. We, too, have been called upon to help, as was the case with the Blacksod Bay tragedy in 2017,’ he explained.

At every dive site, the crews manage all divers, boats, search lines and boat tracking systems so that they do not put themselves in jeopardy.

‘Safety is of paramount importance, which is why the dive officer, Aodh O’Donnell, makes sure all divers complete rescue training and fitness tests.’

Ian said that currently huge efforts are being made to train younger divers and train shore and boat personal to support the divers in their search and rescue operations.

‘Most of the equipment that is used in the unit is personally belong to the divers, such as the 4 x4 vehicles, boats, dive compressors, fuel, and much more. 

‘The unit has purchased some of the newest SAR diving technology from donations made to the unit and we would like to thank everyone who donated money or helped us in any way, and ask people, generally, to remember that further funds are needed.’

For more, see The West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue on Facebook.

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