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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Fears over 'critical' shortage of coastguard staff watching Cumbrian coast

Campaigners fear a “critical” shortage of coastguard staff watching over the Cumbrian coast could result in tragedy.

Maryport rescue boat photo
Maryport's rescue team on exercise

The Coastguard SOS group believes proposed cuts to coastguard bases, including Liverpool which coordinates Whitehaven and Maryport’s teams, will put lives at risk.

The group fears a loss of local knowledge if the Liverpool base closes and operations are transferred to Holyhead in north Wales could cause mix ups or delays in correct information being passed to local rescue teams.

It comes after a Freedom of Information request revealed staffing levels at Cumbria’s coastguard base in Liverpool fell way short in 20 of 60 shifts, which accounted for 240 hours, during September.

Dennis O’Connor, a former coastguard rescue officer and co-ordinator of the Coastguard SOS campaign, told the News & Star the situation is actually worse.

He said: “The figures relate specifically to September but the reality is that Liverpool, among others, has been critically under staffed for the last six months.

“Any under staffing is bad when you’re dealing with an emergency 999 situation.

“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency would be the first to say local teams like Maryport will remain unaffected by the closure programme but that is totally inaccurate.

“All local rescue teams in areas co-ordinated by stations, such as Liverpool, which are due for closure will be affected.

“If Liverpool closes, co-ordination will be passed to Holyhead where the majority of staff will not have the necessary experience and knowledge of the west coast.

“If a distress call comes in, it could mean the wrong local rescue team is tasked to respond.

“It boils down to local knowledge – you cannot place all your faith and trust in computer systems.”

Campaigners have produced a TRAGEDY poster, which claims the staffing crisis is going to end with someone dying.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) says any Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) with staff shortages is paired with another centre to provide cover.

And, after the proposed closure of nine of Britain’s 19 bases from January 2015, all remaining centres and the National Maritime Operations Centre will be able to co-ordinate any incident around the coast, allowing workload to be managed nationally rather than locally.

The MCA adds that unions have accepted the new associated pay, terms and conditions as part of the new structure.

“We will do our very best to work with every individual to ensure they are properly supported in making the best decision for them,” a spokeswoman said.

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