Loughshore News – June 1990
Lough Neagh Rescue Service
A significant step towards increased safety on Lough Neagh has taken place with the announcement that the Northern Ireland Coastguard is taking on responsibility for co-ordinating rescue on the lough.
What does this mean in practice? It means that, in any emergency on the lough, the Coastguard should be alerted in the first instance. This can be done by dialling 999 and asking for the Coastguard. Alternatively one can call MAYDAY on Channel 16 on VHS radio. Additionally one can call PAN PAN on Channel 16 in emergencies where the vessel is not in danger but there is a casualty or casualties.
On receiving the call, the Coastguard will immediately put the full rescue plan into action. A helicopter stationed at Aldergrove Airport will be ready for immediate takeoff. The rescue boat stationed at Kinnego Harbour will be alerted, as will the patrol boats of the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative. Medical teams will also be place on stand-by.
This new system was explained to a large audience of fishermen and other interested persons at the Battery Harbour on Friday 15 June, when a talk was given by Mr Brett Cunningham, Northern Ireland senior coastguard. Mr Cunningham was on a tour of Lough Neagh, accompanied by Mr Paddy Prunty, the Harbourmaster at Kinnego Marina.
Mr Cunningham explained to the audience that, prior to 1990, there had been no co-ordinated rescue plan for Lough Neagh. He was aware, of course, that the Lough Neagh fishermen had always turned out in emergencies, and that they would always remain the backbone of any rescue system. However if things could be improved then it was everyone’s responsibility to make those improvements. The Coastguard had installed a new radio aerial on Divis Mountain which could pick up VHS radio signals from any part of Lough Neagh. A MAYDAY or PAN PAN call on Channel 16 would now mean that the caller’s position could be pinpointed and the rescue services could reach that spot on the lough in a matter of minutes. Mr Cunningham advised all boat owners to install VHS radios in their vessels. £200 might seem a lot of money for a radio, but it was a small price to pay for a life. Several of the fishermen present said that they had already installed VHS radios in their boats.
Mr Prunty, who holds an international yachting master’s licence and who is Lough Neagh’s top life-saver, then addressed the meeting. He stated that more and more boats were using Lough Neagh, which is 154 square miles in area. There were more than 230 fishing boats on the lough, and he estimated that there were approximately 260 yachts and pleasure craft which used the lough. He did not need to tell anyone here today that there had been many boating tragedies on the lough, especially in recent times. He asked his audience to consider what would happen if a jet airliner, taking off or landing at the international airport at Aldergrove, crash-landed on the lough? What would happen if the pleasure boat, The Maid of Antrim, with a full complement of passengers, got into trouble? It was necessary to have a proper rescue service to meet as many of these considerations as possible.
There was one dedicated rescue boat for Lough Neagh at present, continued Mr Prunty. It was stationed at Kinnego Marina, in the south-east corner of the lough. The Battery Harbour, which Mr Cunningham and he were visiting today, was an obvious location to station a second rescue boat. At the mid-point of the western shore, the Battery Harbour was central to the whole lough. One did not have to look at a map to realise this. One only had to stand at the Battery Harbour wall to appreciate the centrality of the Battery. Additionally, the local fishermen and water bailiffs had an outstanding knowledge of the whole of Lough Neagh.
Mr Prunty said that Mr Cunningham and himself had been deeply impressed by the large turn-out of people today and they were persuaded that volunteers would not be lacking to crew a rescue boat based at the Battery. He would put in a request to the Northern Ireland Office for the provision of a second rescue boat for Lough Neagh, to be stationed at the Battery Harbour. He did not foresee any difficulties in this request being sanctioned. Other interested bodies, for example, the local district councils which bounded Lough Neagh, the Tourist Board, and the Fishermen’s Co-operative Society, would be asked to contribute to the running costs of the boat.
Mr Prunty then gave some background information in connection with the rescue boat which is stationed at Kinnego Marina. The marina, which is operated by Craigavon Borough Council, was privileged to have received the gift of a rescue boat from Mr David Gray, a Portadown businessman, who was present in the audience today. Mr Gray’s son, David junior, was drowned in Lough Neagh last year when his boat sank. Mr Gray provided a rescue boat for use on Lough Neagh. The boat cost £30,000. It is named Bungy, which was the late David’s nickname. It is similar to the boats used inshore by the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – being a 6-6 Series Delta Hunter semi-rigid inflatable, powered by two 75hp Mariner outboard engines. It is fully equipped with radio and all up-to-date emergency requirements. The maintenance and running costs of this craft are paid by Craigavon Borough Council and the boat is manned by trained volunteers.
Continuing, Mr Prunty advised all fishermen to wear lifejackets and to follow the advice of Mr Cunningham by installing VHS radios in their boats. He said that he had obtained confirmation from government that radar and visual beacons would be put in place on dangerous rocks and at harbour entrances during the coming year. He forecast that many hundreds more boats would use Lough Neagh in the future, and he reiterated that everything that would make for safety should be encouraged. Mr Prunty concluded by thanking, on his own behalf and on behalf of Mr Cunningham and Mr Gray, everyone who had attended the meeting, the proprietors of the Battery Bar for the use of the reception room, and also local community worker Pat Grimes who had done the essential preparation for this most positive meeting.