MCA Ops Room The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) is now studying the responses to its proposal to cut 10 of its 18 maritime rescue centres around the UK coast as part of a plan aimed at saving £20mn over five years.

Under the plan, staff would be cut from 596 to 370 and more volunteers would be sought. The MCA launched a consultation process to give interested parties a chance to comment on the proposal, and this ended on Mar 24.

In mid-February, the MCA announced a series of meetings at which the local communities around the existing maritime rescue centres could hear about the proposals, ask questions of MCA representatives, and express their views. When announced, the plan provoked a massive storm of protests throughout the length of the UK amid fears it will pose a threat to life. There has also been a great deal of concern among those protesting about the closures that the consultation process may be no more than a PR exercise.

Under the plan, the stations that will definitely close are at Clyde, Forth, Yarmouth, Thames, Portland, Brixham, Milford Haven, and Holyhead, and either Belfast or Liverpool and Shetland or Stornoway. There will only be three maritime rescue centres open for 24-hours every day, at Aberdeen in Scotland and two on the south coast of England, at Dover and in the Southampton/Portsmouth area. Five other centres, Swansea, Falmouth, Humber, either Belfast or Liverpool, and either Stornoway or Shetland, will only operate during daylight hours.

However, according to figures from the RNLI, last year lifeboats were launched 8,713 times, of which almost 3,000 were in the hours of darkness - when, under the plan, only three maritime rescue centres would be open. So, on average, this would work out that each centre could expect to coordinate around three emergency operations involving the RNLI lifeboats in all parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland every night of the year, as well as other emergency calls that did not involve a lifeboat.

Sir Alan Massey

The MCA’s chief executive, Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey, has consistently defended the proposals from when they were first announced, stating that this is the right route to take. He told a meeting of the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee in London on Feb 8: “I have got a settlement I think I can live with and deliver. It will result in a better, safer service.”

Committee member Kwasi Kwarteng, MP, asked Sir Alan: “You are going in to a position of unusual savings. We’ve heard you have, I would say, a haphazard approach to risk assessment. There are issues about diminishing the number of outposts. So do you understand the concerns people might have?”

Sir Alan replied: “I do sir, I appreciate it more acutely as a result of the messages we have been receiving as a result of launching the consultation. But if that means am I concerned and do I feel we have gone down the wrong route, the answer to that is No. “Coastguards have said we need to change. They are working in a structure that is fundamentally inefficient. Hearing from my own Coastguards that the system needs to be modernised, I find that encouraging.”

Days later, the MCA admitted a full risk assessment of the affect of the proposals had not been carried out before they had been announced. On Feb 10, Sir Alan admitted that a risk of 999 calls being left unanswered was not an area he had “been aware of”. But by the time the official risk assessment document was made public on Feb 11, a chapter had been included on ‘Emergency Call Handling: Risk of Missed Calls’. It concluded there was a “very low level of associated risk” of emergency calls failing to be connected.

It turned out that this chapter had been written on Feb 9, the day after Sir Alan appeared before the Transport Select Committee.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - April 2011 Issue
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