Written by Cmdr. Rick Wester.
During an official visit to Ireland last week, Coast Guard Commandant Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp’s met with maritime leaders from the Irish Coast Guard, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Irish Naval Service and Irish Air Corps to gain insights into how they work together with other agencies to ensure their nation’s maritime safety, security and prosperity.
While the primary national defense role of a country’s navy is fairly consistent among nations, the role and authority of a country’s coast guard is not. Many countries don’t even have a coast guard. Instead, the same wide variety of missions that we associate solely with the U.S. Coast Guard is often carried out by the navy and a variety of agencies in other countries.
Ireland has a coast guard with a more focused mission, search and rescue. Their singular-mission focus has helped foster improved maritime safety and the Commandant saw several examples during his visit with the Irish Coast Guard.
“Heroic rescues are an important part of our shared culture, but preventing maritime mishaps from occurring in the first place is paramount,” said the Commandant. “The Irish Coast Guard takes this prevention concept a step further, closely analyzing mishap data to find trends and tailoring their public education programs to reduce mishaps. It is very impressive.”
The Irish Coast Guard was known as the Coast and Cliff Rescue Service until 1991. It’s main role is to rescue people from danger at sea and it is responsible for inland-SAR involving mountains and caves. While the U.S. Coast Guard is assisted in many ways by the all-volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary, all Irish lifeboat stations are manned almost entirely of volunteer RNLI boat crews “24/7,” presenting unique challenges to maintaining proficiency.
Seeing different ways of doing the same mission provides the Commandant with unique insights that may apply to the U.S. Coast Guard. Such outreach was described by the Commandant at the outset of his tenure – one of his four guiding principles is “Strengthening Partnerships.”
“Under the leadership of the Irish Coast Guard, wearing lifejackets is now mandatory for passengers and crew on boats seven meters in length or less in Ireland, which has significantly reduced casualties,” said the Commandant. “It was enlightening to hear how this law was implemented and is enforced.”
While the Irish Coast Guard is focused on SAR, Ireland still needs to carry out other maritime governance functions. To do so, Ireland’s navy, called the Irish Naval Service, conducts fisheries enforcement and maritime domain awareness coordination. The Irish Air Corps conducts fixed wing maritime patrols and other agencies carry out marine safety-related missions.
This multi-agency collective approach and the U.S. Coast Guard’s all-in-one approach each has its own strengths, but the Commandant observed that both countries benefit by sharing lessons learned and best practices.
“Good ideas, good solutions and good policy do not have a nationality.”