AN INDEPENDENT Senator has written to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) requesting a full investigation into claims that a life jacket used by a Doolin Coast Guard volunteer may have been faulty before she tragically lost her life six years ago.
Mother-of-two Caitríona Lucas (41) had offered to help out the neighbouring Coast Guard unit from Kilkee in the search for a missing man, but she died after its rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capsized in a shallow surf zone on September 12, 2016.
Two other crew members on board the RIB, who were also thrown into the sea, survived.
Speaking to the Clare Champion, Senator Gerard Craughwell confirmed he has written a letter to the HSA to advise them life jackets provided to Coast Guard volunteers in late 2014 and early 2015 were tested in a number of stations around the country, which allegedly failed in all tests.
He has also asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the procurement of this vital life saving equipment.
“In one test a person was injured due to the ferocity of the inflation of the life jacket. They were found to only inflate on one side and instead of turning people on to their back, they turned them on to their face.
“I understand there is video and photographic evidence of that. This was the same life jacket that Caitríona Lucas was wearing.
“I believe her life jacket was picked up immediately when her body was recovered and was taken away in a boot of a car.
“I have asked for an inquiry into where did this life jacket go. I have spoken to the Gardai and they told me this is a matter for the HSA.
“We are waiting more than six years for an inquest to be held into her death, which is not good enough. The Lucas family are going through hell.
“I believe the Lucas family are entitled to some closure on this,” he said.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Craughwell stated, “Evidence has now come to me which suggests that the life jackets in use in the Coast Guard at that time were faulty.
“There is documentary evidence that the faults in the life jackets had been reported from 2015, where they failed miserably to turn a person on his or her back.
“Furthermore, there is a suggestion that the life jacket which Ms Lucas was wearing was removed from the scene and has not been seen since.
“I believe the HSA must move immediately to establish what reports were made from 2015 to 2018, and precisely who reported them.
“I am aware of tests that were done in Crosshaven, Cork, in Kerry, in Mayo and in Donegal, and in all cases the life jacket failed or injured the wearer of the life jacket by inflating so violently or only inflating on one side.
“I have the documentary evidence. The HSA should have the documentary evidence and, if it is true that the life jacket was faulty and that the one Ms Lucas was wearing turned her on her face rather than on her back, then I believe there is a case for criminal negligence on somebody’s part.
“A woman has lost her life, a family have lost a mother, and we are six years waiting for an inquest.
“The evidence of what happened on that day must be brought to the inquest. Somebody, somewhere has to start answering questions very quickly. I ask the Leader’s office to engage with the Health and Safety Authority to have this matter investigated,” he stated.
The previous day he asked the Leader of the Seanad to write to the coroner in Limerick, asking why an inquest has not been carried out.
“The Lucas family are entitled to closure, and if there are things to come out from that inquest that may be disturbing for people, then so be it. Let that happen but let us have the inquest,” he stated.
Senator Sean Kyne said the information provided by Senator Craughwell needs to be investigated if it has not been already carried out.
As Ms Lucas was pronounced dead in University Hospital Limerick, responsibility for her inquest is with the Limerick coroner’s office.
International maritime lawyer Michael Kingston has previously called for a full review and re-investigation of the Kilkee accident.
Mr Kingston made the call after a report into “The Operation and Effectiveness of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB)” alleged major shortcomings in an investigation completed by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB).
Mr Kingston claimed the shortcomings in the way the Kilkee accident was investigated were “mind boggling”.
Various issues have arisen over the location cited in the new Marine Hazard Limited (MHL) report, analysis of equipment, weather analysis and procedural issues, confusion regarding VHF radios, while some of the witnesses involved were allegedly not interviewed.
The MHL report alleged: “This MCIB report warrants a full review and re- investigation. It is riddled with inaccuracies and suppositions that were not evidenced in the report.
“The early reference to who was in charge as officer in charge in Kilkee has been hotly disputed by
one of the primary witnesses.
“Many other witnesses involved in the incident were not interviewed. During the compilation of this report further evidence to support these allegations have been obtained.”
The HSA stated it does not provide comment on individual investigations or engagements with duty holders as defined under the relevant statutory regulations enforced by the authority.
Press queries were also submitted to the Department of Transport and the Limerick coroner’s office, but neither had responded at the time of going to press.