MCA use investigatory powers act to locate sailors

Because two yachtsmen in trouble had no VHF radio Coastguards had to use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), to obtain information and location on their mobile phone usage to find them. RIPA is normally used to track suspected criminals, such as drug or people traffickers.

The two 70-year-old yachtsmen, whose engine packed up while on passage from Douglas, Isle of Man to Tranmere on the River Mersey, were assisted into port by lifeboat.

The incident was prompted by the wife of one of the men who called Liverpool Coastguard to report her husband was overdue. On further questioning it was ascertained that he and his colleague had departed Douglas, Isle of Man on the 26th April at around 14:30. On the afternoon of the 27th, he phoned his wife on his mobile phone and told her they were having problems with the engine.

The wife then decided to wait a further 24 hours before contacting the Coastguard to express her concerns! The air rescue co-ordination centre at Kinloss were contacted for past wind history and they offered the use of a Nimrod that was already on exercise and a military rescue helicopter R122. MCA spokesman Mark Clark said:’We took up the offer as the search area was just under 4,000 square miles, but the RIPA information was priceless. When we found them we despatched the pilot boat to standby them whilst we got an RNLI Lifeboat out to assist two very tired 70 years olds into port.

‘We think that the wife left it rather late to call us. If she had any concerns at all,they should have been highlighted to us earlier. We wish people would give us everything at the start.It’s the same old thing; no radio and not letting anyone ashore know where they were going and when they expected to arrive! If shore contacts are in any doubt then for goodness sake let us know. We would rather get things going and scale right back than have to be playing catch up and finding debris.’

See Dick Durham’s blog