Coastguard Staffing Cuts Putting Lives At Risk Says Ritchie
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has slammed the British Government after a reply to her Parliamentary Question which revealed that the Coastguard Station near Belfast at Bregenz House in Bangor was not staffed at safe levels more than 50 per cent of the time in 2013
Speaking from Westminster, Ms Ritchie stated: “I was shocked to find that the Belfast Station, the only remaining full-time station in the North, was staffed at a level below safe risk on over 50 per cent of shifts last year. This is a clear result of the government’s dangerous cuts agenda and is putting the lives of our fishermen at risk.
“Despite warnings, the British government slashed HM Coastguard services in 2011, claiming that this represented modernisation. The response to my Parliamentary Question shows that instead we have been left with a threadbare service that is dangerous and lacks investment.
“I will be raising this issue further with the Department of Transport to ensure that this staff shortage has been rectified and to call for a review of coastguard services. All of those who use and make a living from our waters deserve to be as safe as possible and the UK Government have serious questions to answer. Also, given how closely this station co-ordinates with the Irish rescue services, I will also be raising this issue with the Irish Government.”
Speaking at Westminster (Monday 27 January, Ms Ritchie asked Secretary of State for Transport how many occasions the Coastguard station at Belfast was staffed at a level that was below safe risk in 2013; and what proportion of shifts this represented.
Minister Stephen Hammond replied: “During 2013, Belfast Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) was staffed below risk assessed levels on 414 occasions out of 730 shifts. This represents 56.7% of all shifts in 2013. Her Majesty’s Coastguard has recruited additional staff at Belfast MRCC during 2013 to address staffing levels; as a result Belfast MRCC is now staffed above complement.
“Where there are specific issues at a MRCC, HM Coastguard is using the current long-established pairing arrangements between MRCC’s. This enables each MRCC to be connected to at least one other MRCC which is available to provide mutual support.”
Local supporters of the Northern Ireland Coastguard station in Bangor had long argued that transferring the service to Scotland on the basis that technical improvements justify this, as was considered two years ago, is a poorer option as regional knowledge is lost and this could cuase lifes in dangerous emergency situations.
With around 140 fishing vesssels alone in County Down, a busy blue water tourism boating industry, and the Irish Sea being a much used maritime passage-way, many seafarers have been keeping an eye on the local Northern Ireland Coastgaurd station position with concern.