Dino Marcellino gives AM&R the lowdown on the structure, facilities and capabilities of the Italian Coast Guard
The Italian Coast Guard (Guardia Costiera) is a specialist division of the Italian Navy. The current staff consists of 11,000 personnel distributed over 310 stations, from the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres covering each of the 15 maritime zones, to local offices and delegations. This organisation carries out a wide range of tasks, covering over 8,000 km (5,000 miles) of coastline, at sea and sometimes on behalf of foreign countries.
The Coast Guard is mandated to perform the following tasks:
Ensure efficient organisation of search and rescue (SAR) services in Italy’s area of interest at sea, which goes beyond the boundaries of territorial waters (wherever human life needs protection at sea). The General Command carries out the function of IMRCC (Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center)
Monitoring and control of maritime traffic, both in terms of Safety of Navigation and Maritime Security
Identification, control and prevention of pollution at sea (mainly caused by ships)
Monitoring and control of fishing activities
Conservation of the coastal and marine environment, protection of underwater archaeological assets
Port State Control
To fulfil its roles, the Italian Coast Guard has both naval and aerial departments – the naval component is equipped with more than 600 vessels located in 113 ports along the peninsula and islands, while the aerial component is centred at three air bases, which host the respective Nuclei Aerei, or Air Units.
The Nuclei Aerei play an essential role in carrying out a wide spectrum of missions, and their increasingly important role in Coast Guard activities is evidenced by a recent modernisation and restructuring plan. In fact, during 2017, the service retired two older aircraft models: the AB-412CP Koala helicopter and the Piaggio P-166DL.3 SEM Orca twin-engine patrol plane. At the same time, the number of AW139CP Nemo helicopters increased, with more set to join the fleet in the future. Piaggio P-180CP and ATR-42MPs Manta planes complete the current line-up.△
Lay of the land
The first Nucleo Aereo is based in Sarzana, northern Italy, and is equipped with four Leonardo AW139CPs.
The second Nucleo Aereo is located in Catania, Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. Equipped with two ATR-42MPs, one P-180CP and six AW139CPs, the unit is heavily engaged in SAR activities in the Mediterranean Sea, assisting migrants from the African coast, among other missions.
Pescara, in central Italy, is home to the third Nucleo Aereo, which is equipped with an ATR-42MP and two AW139s. Pescara was the last of the three air bases to receive a rotor wing component, and will soon welcome the arrival of a third AW139.
The unit stands ready to respond to rescue alarms 24/7/365, with a helicopter and the necessary personnel on standby in the base during daytime hours and available at night at short notice. The standard crew is made up of four crew members: pilot, co-pilot, systems operator/winchman and a rescuer. In the event that a mission requires a flight to an out-of-area location, or a long transfer with intermediate refuelling stops, an aircraft technical specialist joins the crew. Some missions may also see a second rescuer taken onboard, and the Coast Guard has also signed an agreement with the Italian National Health Service to take doctors and nurses onboard if needed.
The AW139 helicopters boast a range of SAR equipment: the hoist rescue collar, which is the most commonly used device; a Kong stretcher with a 40-m (130-ft) cable to control rotation; a high line to assist with winching onto boats; a folding rescue basket; and a medical rucksack for providing initial care. In addition, there is an air-deployable, single-person life raft equipped with a strobe-light, an anchor, a flare gun and a radio transmitter. Furthermore, a paediatric transport bag is available, which can accommodate a child up to one metre (three feet) tall, which functions as a stretcher and can be secured in such a way as to protect the child from both water and rotor wash. A patrol system console, used for flying patrol missions, is fixed and remains onboard. The crew is able to fly and perform rescues at night with the aid of night vision goggles.
All the helos are equipped with 272-kg (600-pound) hoist, searchlight, weather and search radar, and a thermal imaging camera. The two large side sponsons bear the landing gear and also house inflatable 11-person life-rafts, used in the event that the aircraft must be evacuated at sea.
With one helicopter on standby for SAR calls, the second is used for maritime traffic control missions and fishing patrol missions. It is still a SAR-capable craft, however, if during a patrol mission the crew receives a rescue request, the onboard specialist moves from the console to the winch while the air rescuer prepares for the intervention.
This two-engine aircraft is an excellent maritime patrol platform, and is equipped with an airborne tactical observation and surveillance (ATOS) system, which is integrated with side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) and electro-optical surveillance and tracking (EOST) sensing systems, and the Daedalus Airborne Thematic Map system. The SLAR is used for long-range detection of pollution (hydrocarbons) at sea.
The equipment is operated by two crew members from a pair of consoles, who work alongside a tactical co-ordinator. The overall crew consists of seven people: two pilots, the two systems operators and the tactical co-ordinator, plus two technicians/observers.
The plane can also contribute to SAR missions, as in addition to carrying out the search phase, it can deploy inflatable rafts. Launching them is a complex activity that must be carried out in a very short time and with extreme precision, requiring all seven crew members to work together. An initial flyover is performed to detect the position of the person at sea and to determine the environmental conditions. At the second pass, the launch takes place at a height of 300 ft and a speed of 140 knots, with a route calculated by the two console operators. Using the left-side rear door (the only door that can be opened in flight) up to five rafts can be launched, each having an eleven-seat capacity.
Multi-tasking at its best
The Italian Coast Guard is on front-line of saving human lives at sea – screens around the world carry images of thousands of migrants saved each day, and of large-scale rescues such as of the shipwreck of the Norman Atlantic and the Costa Concordia. But those are just some of the areas in which the service is active, and not just at sea. Recent events on the Italian mainland, such as recent earthquakes and the Hotel Rigopiano disaster, have seen the Coast Guard helicopters operating in a mountain environment, demonstrating a high level of professionalism and competence.