NI Coastguard has just had a welcome boost in support as Down District Council has unanimously supported a proposal by Councillor Dermot Curran that services should not be cut. Following the announcement of a consultation review of coastguard services nationally, the Bangor coastguard centre, the only one in Northern Ireland, is threatened with closure with emergency sea operations being run from hundreds of miles away.
There is a growing vocal support for the NI Coastguard among fishermen, recreational mariners, and coastal users. Councillor Curran said, “The coastguard in Northern Ireland may be relatively few in numbers but their impact is very significant. The closure of the Bangor station could cost the loss of lives. We all know that responding quickly and effectively in an emergency may save vital seconds and prevent a death.
“The highly skilled staff need to be left in place to continue the good work they do. We deal with a large number of tourists through the year that use Strangford Lough, the Irish Sea and travel up through the North Channel to Scotland.
There is a clear growth in blue water tourism. And we have a very significant fishing industry on our Co. Down doorstep. It is vitally important that we do not lose this local knowledge.”
Supporting the motion, SDLP Councillor Marie McCarthy said, “If the Bangor station were to close the nearest one would be in Aberdeen hundreds of miles away.
“We must resist this threatened closure.
“The service cannot be taken for granted. We need to write to the Secretary of State and express our concerns about this proposal.”
DUP Councillor William Dick said, “When there is a crisis, time is of the essence, and time wasted could mean lives lost.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Willie Clarke MLA said, “There needs to be a strategy for an All-Ireland coastguard.
“This proposal by the government appears just to be an effort to save money. This is a very serious issue.”
Councillor Dermot Curran’s proposal passed unanimously, said: “That this Council, which contains within its boundaries a significant portion of the Irish Sea, demands that a Command centre for HM Coastguard and Rescue Service is maintained in Northern Ireland.”
Background to the NI Coastguard Service in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Coastguard station at Bangor is threatened by closure through a government consultation which closes on March 24th.
The proposals are unacceptable to many people across Northern Ireland on many sectors. The closure of the Bangor Coastguard Centre will have wide ranging impacts.
A Rescue Centre Manager oversees operations with 24 staff spread over four watches. The staff are all specialists, having trained in rescue procedures for over one year and with other training modules under their belts.
Coastguard Staff are trained and skilled in a range of areas such as tidal drift, communication/radio work, search planning etc.
They are responsible for co-ordinating coastal and marine incidents and rescues.They also cover the inland waterways of Lough Erne and Lough Neagh.
They provide search and rescue support to other emergency services under the Civil Contingencies Act. They have a legal obligation to assist other services. eg an elderly person search in Dundrum area last year… a woman was found safe after missing for a day.
The NI Coastguard also provides 4-wheel drives, communication systems etc to assist with these searches and emergency events eg during fires in Mournes last year, the NI Coastguard took firefighters with their beating equipment up to high ground in their four-track vehicles.
The coastguard are also responsible for emergency planning and response. They respond to calls on telephone calls, VHF, satellite warnings (eg EPIRB (emergency sea beacons etc.)
Local knowledge is critical in a search when time is of the essence. They have local knowledge, know the members of other emergency services on a 1-to-1 basis, and they are part of a small family of rescue services of approximately 400 in total in NI. And there is an excellent working rappor with other services.
It is also a cause o fconcern that the removal of the Coastguard station in Bangor will create difficulties as the NI Coastguard co-ordinates the network of emergency services – and once ashore, the Coastguard passes on to other services. The tested systems will be in jeopardy.
Further, Coastguard operators hundreds of miles away will not have local knowledge of place names, nick names, accents, travel times, distances, etc and other points which could cause communication issues and misunderstandings.
The Bangor Coastguard coordinates disasters such as a ferry sinking, plane crashing, boat sinking, etc. and covers from the Irish sea to an area 300 miles into the Atlantic.
The service will be severely disabled if Bangor station is closed down.
There is also an issue of staff in NI being severely disadvantaged if they are given an option to relocate. They would have to move across the water at their own personal hardship. Aberdeen and Southhampton have the most expensive homes in the country and NI the cheapest.
There is a relatively a small number of people involved in the Coastguard service but the impact of their loss will be huge… lives could really be lost. Seconds and minutes are vital in a real rescue. There should be no compromise of cost for this service.
The feeling across County Down is strong and unanimous…’No’ to the closure of the Bangor Coastguard Station.