Coastguard shake-up plans could cost lives

Reporter:

Andrew Boyd

CHANGES to the coastguard call system could hamper rescue operations in the region.

That was the warning from Cllr Lorna Jones, mayor of Flint, who has expressed her concern for her town’s coastline and neighbouring communities if proposals to centralise the coastguard call-centres are given the go-ahead.

Under the plans at least one of the sub-centres in Holyhead and Liverpool, which handle Flint call-outs, could close and night-time operations may instead be dealt with from Aberdeen and Southampton.

Cllr Jones said: “I am extremely concerned about this and the possible consequences for this area.

“The people dealing with the calls need to have the local knowledge, which helps speed up the process and could be crucial in dealing with major operations when people need rescuing.

“Plenty of time could be lost when being called out somewhere because the people behind it do not know the area well enough and that could be vital in performing a rescue operation.”

Fellow councillors gave Cllr Jones their backing when the item was raised at Flint Town Council, with the council to write to politiicians to press home their concerns on the matter.

Cllr Jones has personal knowledge of the issue as her husband Gary is station officer at Flint for the Dee Coastguard team. Gary, who has been part of the Coastguard service for 30 years, said: “There is a lot of opposition to this within the Coastguards. It is going to cause us a lot of problems and put more pressure on us.

“If you have someone working from Southampton and they are told about an incident in Queensferry, they will not have the local knowledge and may be confused as to whether they mean this Queensferry or the one in Scotland.”

The matter was debated by Assembly Members at the Senedd, Cardiff, earlier this month.

Carl Sargeant, Minster for Social Justice and Local Government and Alyn and Deeside AM, said Wales would be at a “significant disadvantage” if proposals for closures go through.

He added: “If the Liverpool station closes, North Wales will be at an even greater disadvantage.

“When we consider the number of sailings from Holyhead, it is fair to say that North Wales will be a vulnerable area under either proposal.”

Speaking late last year, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning said he believed the proposed changes would improve the life-saving service.

He said: “These changes will strengthen the coastguard service by dealing with potential points of weakness in current structures and adding resilience throughout the system while also maintaining strong regional links and enhancing frontline rescue services through the volunteer coastguard."

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