Coastguard plans ‘seriously flawed’

Fife Ness
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GOVERNMENT plans to re-structure the coastal service have taken a twist after they were slammed by an influential cross-party Parliamentary body.

The Transport Committee has told the Government it needs to reverse its plans to reduce the amount of rescue co-ordination centres – a move which would threaten the future of Fife Ness.

Members say the proposals would result in a loss of local knowledge among coastguard officers who are responsible for taking calls from people and vessels in distress.

Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “We accept there is a need for some modernisation but the Government’s proposals for the future of the coastguard service are seriously flawed.

“We found little support for the current proposals and we have no confidence that, under these proposals, the coastguard will in future be able to respond to emergencies at sea as well as it does now, let alone in a more effective way.

“While there is a case for reducing the total number of rescue co-ordination centres, any future reorganisation of the coastguard should be based on 24-hour centres, as they are now, and not on stations open only during daylight hours, as the Government proposes.”

The committee also strongly condemns the Government’s cost-cutting decision to withdraw funding for the four Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) which are stationed around the UK coast.

These boats are large tugs that intercept disabled ships to prevent environmental pollution disasters.

The committee’s sentiments have been echoed by MSP Rod Campbell, who said he “welcomed the thrust” of its report.

Mr Campbell told the Mail the issue has been a matter of “great concern” locally and the group was right to highlight the situation.

He said: “Fife Ness coastguard station covers some 300 miles of coastline and has responded to around 1400 incidents in the past three years.

“This demonstrates that the future of the coastguard is quite literally a matter of life and death.

“As such, anything that highlights the deficiencies in the LibCon coalition’s plans for the service is very welcome.

“Fife is a county with a strong – and continuing – maritime tradition.

“People are rightly opposed to any plan that would mean reduced coastguard cover in the East Neuk.”

The committee also showed its “disappointment” that Mike Penning MP, Minister for Shipping, told coastguards not to give oral evidence on the basis that they were junior civil servants.

“The Minister should have shown more faith in the professionalism of the coastguards and stuck by his original commitment to the House to let them give evidence to the committee,” added Ms Ellman.