SDLP Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has re-iterated her call to the British Government not to close the Northern Ireland Coastguard Centre in Bangor.
Speaking following a cross-party visit to the coastguard station in Bangor, Ms Ritchie said, “NI Coastguard Centre is the only station in the North to co-ordinate rescue operations both inland and on waterways in our region. If it were to close, the amount of essential assistance given by the coastguard would be greatly diminished and lives would be put at risk.
“The Bangor-based station is unique in that North/South co-operation is key, providing a vital service to the fisheries and tourism sectors right from Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough including those in Ardglass, Newcastle and Kilkeel.
“I have seen first-hand that the people working here have a real passion for their jobs, working part-time on the lifeboat, live saving is at the core of their mission. They are also exceptionally well-qualified, sitting an exam on local maritime knowledge every two years.
“Another difficulty in shutting this service and depending on a coastguard station in Liverpool, for instance, is that the island of Ireland operates with Ordnance Survey at the point of origin which is totally incompatible with the English mapping system.
“Local knowledge of operations in stations is fundamental to delivering an efficient service for people here and the same standard simply cannot be delivered from England.
“I am sending a message to the Maritime Coastguard Agency, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Shipping Minister that the coordinated coastguard station in Bangor is vital and must remain open.
“The courage of those who devote time to rescue efforts on our shores must not be taken for granted by government and funding for this centre, the only station in Northern Ireland, therefore must be protected.”
Also, Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford,said that the delegation that met at the Coastguard Station in Bangor on Monday are even more convinced now that the station must remain as is and that the station be enhanced to a 24-hour station.
He said, “In the last year NI Coastguard and RNLI dealt with 654 incidents, 234 people were rescued, 930 were assisted and there were 22 fatalities which is double the amount of 4 years ago. The statistics prove the point and as most of the calls upon the coastguard come at night time – there is an even greater need for local knowledge that saves the time that could be the difference between a rescue story or a story of heartbreak.
“The Irish Sea and Channel carry some of the largest commercial fishing around the UK – beaten only by Dover. Leisure Boating is big business in the Strangford Area, there is a flight corridor that goes right across Strangford and North Down and Tourism figures double the population amount in the waters.
“The Irish sea is used for Royal Navy manoeuvres and submarine excursions and the RNLI Coastguard also cover Donegal. All of these facts highlight the use of the waters of Northern Ireland and the sheer magnitude of area that is covered at present.