New BIM sea survival training pool to open in Co Donegal



[Source: RTE]

A new sea survival training pool has been launched in the National Fisheries College of Ireland in Greencastle, Co Donegal.

Sea survival is a key part of basic training that prepares fishers in the event of an accident at sea.

Crew members on an Irish fishing vessel must complete the course every five years.

The new €2.1m training pool aims to re-create a realistic experience, with simulated wind, rain and waves, and a water temperature considerably lower than a heated indoor pool.

It is powered by heat pumps and solar panels.

CEO of Bord Iasciagh Mhara Caroline Bocquel which runs the fisheries college, said the centre is much needed for the fishing communities in Donegal and further afield.

"We know from our research that over 82% of fishers know somebody who has lost their life in an accident at sea, so there is no doubt that it is a very dangerous business."

"But I think providing people with really good safety training gives them the best possible outcome, and we know from previous students on our courses, they would say that without having done the course that they would have had a very different outcome," she said.

Safety instructor at BIM Larry Kealey takes students through drills in the pool including how to safely abandon ship and swim with a casualty to a life raft.

"You take things for granted and think this will not happen to us, my boat will not sink.

"It's too late to find out where the equipment is and how to use it, and how prepared your crew is when that boat is sinking. So that's why drills are so important in this industry," he said.

Sofia Fox, who is studying Marine Electric Technology and took part in the training for her college course, said: "It's so dangerous working at sea, and a lot of the stuff I learned today, I wouldn't have thought of.

"For example, the life raft opening upside down. We had to learn how to turn it the right way up and rescuing people who are maybe unconscious in the water."

The National Fisheries College of Ireland also runs courses in firefighting and first aid, as crew members are far from immediate help when a vessel is at sea.

Kevin McHugh from Killybegs has been fishing for three decades and said fishers have been in "all kinds of situations".

"Fingers being cut off and having to give stitches at sea, and guys being airlifted and many different situations and scenarios. But we've all lived to tell the tale. So that's what's important and that's where your training comes in."

"When we're at sea we have to make the best of it ourselves, because we can't call for help. We have to do these things ourselves. We're our own medical service. We're our own fire service," Mr McHugh said.

Shaun McClenaghan, a skipper from Greencastle, said fishers work in "one of the most dangerous jobs in the world" and the practical training is very beneficial.

He also hopes the new training facility will bring more students to the village and boost the local economy.

"It's great for the community, we’re a small community. Ever since Brexit, we've seen cuts to [fishing] quotas."

"Three years ago in Greencastle we had seven fishing trawlers over 25 metres. Now we’re down to five. There’s less and less and it’s a noose around the neck of the industry."

"It’s important to try and keep in this community the last bit of fishing that’s left and keep it going," Mr McClenaghan.

The new sea survival pool is due to be officially opened by Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue on Friday 24 May

Charles Cavanagh has been with Greencastle Coastguard for 38 years, he said the local fishing community has seen its share of tragedy over the years and anything that improves safety training is a great asset.

"Just within the last six months, we've had proof of how training works. We had a rescue of four fishermen in Lough Foyle back in December.

"They all came through this facility here; they were trained in survival. They were wearing their life jackets, the boat had basically sunk from under them.

"So they were able to stay together, and they had personal locating beacons on their life jackets to raise the alarm, and even though they were in the water for almost an hour because they had drifted away from the wreck, they were all rescued."

"The key thing for us is that someone is wearing a life jacket and is afloat when we get there so we can rescue them," Mr Cavanagh said.

The new sea survival pool is due to be officially opened by Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue on Friday.

Speaking ahead of the opening ceremony, Mr McConalogue, who approved the BIM’s proposal for the new unit in 2021, said: "This project is set to significantly increase the college’s capacity and offering.

"The aim of this new sea survival unit is to significantly increase the professional level of maritime training that BIM provides.

"I welcome BIM’s decision to fit a 'green pool’ by including an appropriate renewal energy source to fund the pumps, heating and filtration system which is in keeping with national policy and ensure that running costs will be sustainable for the future."