Inquiry launched into faulty marine beacons

22 November 2013 12:36

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Inquiry launched into faulty marine beacons

Owners of device advised to carry out immediate testing to ensure safe operation

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has initiated an internal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding reported identification of faulty marine emergency radio beacons.

The Australian manufacturer of the GME emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) has issued a precautionary safety alert to owners of six models of the device manufactured between 2005 and 2010.

The Department of Transport’s new Irish Maritime Administration has also advised owners of the GME EPIRBs to carry out “immediate testing of their beacon”.

British distributors for the device have said that the Australian company only became aware of a microprocessor malfunction, which effectively shuts the beacon down, after testing of an EPIRB retrieved from the boat used by three brothers who drowned off Co Waterford this summer.

Paul (49), Kenny (47) and Shane (44) Bolger from Passage East, Co Waterford, were all wearing lifejackets and had an EPIRB on their 19 ft punt, Dean Leanne, when they capsized in Tramore Bay last July.

However, the EPIRB failed to activate - as normally happens when in contact with water - and the alert was not raised until some hours later when the brothers had failed to return.

Late last July, the Department of Transport issued a “care and maintenance” notice concerning EPIRBs, but did not specify problems with any particular models.

The British distributor for the GME EPIRBs has said that the failure rate has been about 0.1 per cent, and that it was only after further investigation of the EPIRB on the Bolger boat that the problem came to light.

However, RTÉ has reported that the department’s Marine Survey Office was alerted three years ago to problems with EPIRBs made by the same company.

A spokeman for Mr Varadkar said that he was “looking into” this issue, following the report.

At the funeral of the three Bolger brothers, their sister Paula’s partner Colm O’Neill spoke of how the drownings had “roots in a long descent into danger,caused by the removal of economic opportunity again and again without alternatives being made possible”.

“Successive governments have often, with good intentions, restricted or removed categories of fishery or types of fishing,” Mr O’Neill said.


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