Risking lives at sea

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PROPOSALS to streamline coastguard operations across the country could put lives at risk at Fleetwood and Over Wyre.

That’s the view of a seasoned coastguard worker at Liverpool station, which currently covers the Wyre area but is potentially at risk of closing.

Paul Kirby, a union representative at Liverpool, says the plans by the Marine Coastguard Agency could see emergency calls for incidents off Fleetwood and Knott End initially being handled by Aberdeen instead.

He fears the lack of local knowledge and greater distance involved at switchboard level could cause delays in getting the call-outs to the Wyre Coastguards.

And his fears have been echoed in Fleetwood.

The plans include the reduction of 24-hour maritime rescue co-ordination centres from 18 to two, but those two large centres, likely to be Aberdeen and Southampton, would cover a wider area.

In addition there would be six sub-stations open during daylight hours only (apart from Dover which would be 24-hour) with Liverpool and Belfast vying with each other to be selected as one of these sub-stations. The MCA says the coastguard service badly needs to be modernised, streamlined and made more effective.

But Mr Kirby said: “Even a delay by a few minutes could be crucial and literally make the difference between life and death.

“When dealing with emergencies, time is of the essence.

“Essentially, we say the proposals are cost-cutting measures which will seriously undermine one of the key emergency services.

“We also stand to lose half our jobs in the next four years.”

Mr Kirby, who is the Public Commercial Services Union representative for Liverpool, says the issue is at the consultation stage but stressed that members were deeply concerned, not only about their own livelihoods, but about the viability of the service and the potentially fatal consequences.

Sid Holt, of Fleetwood Lifesaving Club, said; “Per unit of coastline, I expect ours to be one of the most dangerous in the country which means the coastguard is a frontline service.

“If we are losing some of our beach patrol cover and then the professionals we have at Liverpool, that would be really desperate. Their local knowledge is essential when it comes to saving lives at sea when time is of the essence.”

Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, says he is aware of local and national concerns about the moves, and is involved in Commons investigation into the proposals.

He said: “The proposals from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency to reduce the number of Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres has, I know, caused some alarm amongst coastguards. Whilst these proposals don’t reduce local volunteer coverage, I do appreciate that people want reassurance that these changes will not be a retrograde step. The Transport Select Committee I sit on will be examining all these issues as part of an Inquiry, parallel to the public consultation. I will be meeting local Coastguards soon to discuss their concerns, as I want to ensure that the Local Knowledge test professionals have to sit is maintained in whatever new network emerges.”

A spokeswoman for the MCA said the level of cover would be the same. She said: “It won’t make a difference to the professional service people get at the moment. It is a structural change but will not change the way we deal with incidents.”