The UK Government closed the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Clyde on 18th December 2012
Following an article which we linked to on this page last weekend, a new article has been published in which the MCA claim that there was no confusion over an incident which took place at Greenock.
In the interests of promoting fairness so that everyone may have the opportunity review the latest article which contains information from the MCA we are happy to link to it once again.
The original article was published on the information that was given by what is reasonable to assume, credible sources – the first informant and her MP. We had no reason to doubt the credibility of the information that was published and although the MCA’s account is remarkably different, it would not be appropriate for us to say (as others have strongly suggested) that the first informant lied.
Despite the headline of the most recent article, we would argue that confusion does in fact still exist because of two very different accounts being reported. This is something which should concern us.
It should also be said that on the original fb link a response was posted which indicated clearly that rescue services were on scene within a very short time of being deployed but we were unable to obtain an further information which might have shed more light on the incident before now.
As a campaign group we do not seek to sensationalise things. We have always been prepared to receive input or advice and information from anyone who feels that a different angle could be put forward. This ethos remains steadfast.
We publish links to articles and comment as we see fit. We have a right to form an opinion as everyone else does and we have a right to hear what the truth is about these closure plans. Until the Government and MCA can offer credible reasons why their way is the correct way forward for the future of HM Coastguard and the safety of coast users then we will continue to campaign the way that we have been doing and carry on providing a voice for concerned Coastguard officers.
Constituents of Labour MP Iain Mackenzie – an elderly couple and their neighbour – witnessed a fishing vessel run onto the rocks near the Navy Buildings in Greenock on Thursday night [21st March].
Ironically, the former Clyde Coastguard, closed in the name of the ‘modernisation’ of the coastguard service, used to be based in these same Navy Buildings.
The grounding of the fishing boat was so close to the shore that these witnesses were able to call to the two men on board.
One of the witnesses then called the Coastguard and was put through to Belfast. She is said to have been on the phone for 45 minutes with no sign of assistance arriving for the distressed boat.
She was instructed to ask her husband and next door neighbour to go down to the water’s edge with a torch, to assist in identifying the rescue area to any coastguard boats.
No Coastguard assistance was witnessed arriving either by sea or air. One of the male witnesses concerned is understood to have taken photographs of what happened that evening.
Mr Mackenzie was told that what looked like another fishing boat came to the stricken ship’s assistance and managed to tow them back into deeper water where, later, the Police boat appeared.
The obvious worry is that 45 minutes on the phone to Belfast looks like no or very slow response to this incident, taking place on the doorstep of the former Clyde Coastguard.
Mr Mackenzie will be asking questions of Belfast and Police to ascertain the facts around this peculiar series of events. He is aware that his constituents were extremely worried both during and after the incident.
The MCA has, unusually, made no reference to this incident on its website.
We have published reports recently, with no denial from anyone, that Belfast Coastguard, although apparently over staffed, has been experiencing difficulty in achieving even minimum manning of shifts; and particularly, has been struggling to man the phones.
The experience of the MPs constituents in Greenock over this incident would appear to be consistent with these reports.
This situation appears to have developed following the additional burden of responsibility placed on Belfast following the closure of Clyde. Belfast had to assume the obligation for the massive sea area Clyde Coastguard had watched over [from the Mull of Galloway to Ardnamurchan Point and out to Tiree and Coll] – in addition to their existing responsibility for the entire coast of Northern Ireland.
Stornoway Coastguard – which had been slated to close as well but was reprieved – was later asked to take over part of the northern area of the former Clyde Coastguard sea area.
National Coastguard SOS campaign response
Dennis O’Connor, of the vigilant National Coastguard SOS campaign which has stood resolutely against what appears to be a singularly ill-conceived and ill-managed revision of the UK coastguard service, says of this incident: ‘This elderly couple have been forced to experience concern and frustration at the obvious failure of MRCC Belfast to either identify the location or deploy the nearest available rescue resources. This is just unacceptable.
‘Thankfully, it would appear from the report of the incident, that no lives were put in imminent peril but that is most certainly by fortune rather than design.
‘The UK Government and Maritime & Coastguard Agency have repeatedly stated that the transition of coordination responsibilities from Clyde to Belfast has been successful – but this is the another such incident where the rescue coordination from Belfast has resulted in delay. Government departments and agencies involved in this fundamental and disorderly change to the service. They must be held accountable.’
PRESS RELEASE from the office of Katy Clark MP
Cuts to coastguard centres putting west coast maritime safety at risk
Coastguard services covering the west coast of Scotland are being staffed at dangerously low levels according to information revealed by the Government. Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre Belfast (MRCC Belfast), which recently took over responsibility for co-ordinating rescue services for the west coast of Scotland following the closure of Greenock based MRCC Clyde in December 2012, was staffed at below risk-assessed levels on 40 shifts in December 2012 and on 43 shifts in January this year. The information was provided in response to a Parliamentary Question from Labour MP Katy Clark whose North Ayrshire and Arran constituency covers a stretch of the West of Scotland’s coast. Fears were raised prior to the closure of MRCC Clyde that insufficient safeguards had been put in place to ensure that maritime safety would not be compromised once it stopped operating. In particular there was significant concern about the loss of local knowledge and a gap in provision prior to the new Maritime Operations Centre in Fareham becoming operational sometime during 2013/14.
Speaking on the subject Ms. Clark said “These alarming figures underline the extent to which the closure of MRCC Clyde has compromised maritime safety along the West Coast of Scotland. The Government has repeatedly failed to provide satisfactory answers to genuine safety concerns regarding the closure of the Greenock station and the revelation that MRCC Belfast is now being staffed at dangerously low levels will do nothing to allay people’s fears. Unfortunately I now believe it is likely that lives are being put at risk by the closure of MRCC Clyde and the failure to staff MRCC Belfast appropriately.”
“The Government now needs to act as a matter of urgency and put in place swift measures to alleviate the situation and ensure that safety is not jeopardised further by its reckless and poorly thought out closure programme.”
Coastguard campaigners back MP’s “overworked” claim
By Eric Baxter – Greenock Telegraph
THE National Coastguard SOS Campaign is backing Inverclyde’s MP over the
latest row surrounding the closure of the Greenock HQ.
Iain McKenzie revealed this week he had been told a senior coastguard
officer in Belfast had quit because of ‘dangerous overwork’ following
last month’s transfer of operations from Clyde.
The claim was denied by management at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
(MCA), who said the officer had left for ‘personal reasons’.
But SOS Campaign co-ordinator Dennis O’Connor today said the officer’s
departure had also come to their attention.
Mr O’Connor said: “We’re delighted Iain McKenzie has moved quickly to
demand that the secretary of state for transport, Patrick McLoughlin,
should appear before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
“We would also urge the committee to once again call shipping minister
Stephen Hammond and coastguard chief Sir Alan Massey to provide evidence
that the closure programme is indeed as safe as they are saying.
“As yet, neither have offered any proof whatsoever to back up their
Mr O’Connor also described the loss of key personnel as a ‘major setback
for the MCA’.
He added: “The MCA are unlikely to admit any officer has left for
anything other than ‘personal reasons’, but the fact that the service is
dangerously understaffed strongly suggests there are a great deal of
senior officers and watchkeepers who are disenfranchised with it.
“The service is haemorrhaging staff and stations like Clyde are still
being closed despite categorical assurances that no stations would shut
before the robustness of the centralised call centre system was
demonstrated. The closure of Forth and Clyde has already taken place
without any such testing having been done, because the much-heralded
replacement system simply does not exist.”
The campaigner also called on the UK Government to do a u-turn and
reopen the Greenock station immediately.
He said: “We once again call upon the UK Government to abolish station
closure plans immediately and reinstate the coastguard rescue
coordination centres at Forth and on the Clyde.”
Coastguard bosses have insisted that seafarers will be safer than ever
following the transfer
Stuart McMillan MSP
Stuart McMillan MSP, (SNP) has highlighted a warning that the RNLI Lifeboat’s success could be seriously compromised by the Westminster system’s cuts to the HM Coastguard service in Scotland.
The RNLI last week announced that 2012 was a record year in Scotland in terms of the number of number of people rescued with volunteer crews going to the aid of 1,055 people. Its previous highest number was 1,026 in 2006.
The success of the Lifeboat is interdependent on success of the Coastguard service, said Dennis O’Connor, National Coastguard SOS Campaign Coordinator. The Coastguard cuts mean a drop in local knowledge which could lead to inadvertently putting the Lifeboat volunteers in danger.
Mr McMillan said;
“This warning must come as a wake-up call to the UK government who have imposed Westminster cuts on Scotland’s waters for the sake of saving a few pounds.
“We now have a ridiculous situation where the West of Scotland is not covered by a local Coastguard station and the Lifeboat volunteers take instruction from Coastguard centres hundreds of miles away. Added to this, it’s been reported that in the last two weeks Rescue Coordination Centre Manager, Richard Newell, of Belfast Coastguard, resigned from his post.
“The Lifeboat volunteers do an invaluable and exceptional job but for them to be being given instructions on emergencies taking place in the intricate and diverse coastline of the west of Scotland from Stornoway or Belfast defies all logic.”
Mr O’Connor said;
“The RNLI do an exceptional job in but the service is in danger due to Scotland suffering from the thick end of the wedge of UK government cuts to HM Coastguard.
“The success of the RNLI is underpinned by the success of the professional service and expert local knowledge of the Coastguard.
“It is fundamentally wrong that the UK government is potentially putting Lifeboat volunteers’ lives in danger by cutting the Coastguard.”
18.12.12 – National Coastguard SOS Campaign Press Release
Campaigners anger at continued Coastguard centre closures.
Campaigners have challenged the Chief Executive of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) to produce evidence to support his claims that lives will not be put at risk as a result of Government plans to close Coastguard rescue coordination centres.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, Dennis O’Connor from the National Coastguard SOS Campaign Group said that statements made by the MCA’s Sir Alan Massey are misleading. “Sir Alan is wrong to make these statements because until the replacement system of operation is in place he does not have the proof that lives will not be risked by the closure plans”.The centralised call centre in Fareham which the Government want to replace 50% of UK Coastguard stations will not be operational until 2015 according to a recent press release by the MCA (although even this contrasts with Sir Alan who has stated that 2014 is the intended operational date). Campaigners insist that no assurances on safety should be given my Sir Alan or the UK Shipping Minister; Stephen Hammond MP until the new system has been fully trialled and tested. “It’s a misguided smokescreen designed as damage limitation” said Mr O’Connor.
Earlier this month the Transport Select Committee published the report from their second inquiry into the plans to close stations and Sir Alan Massey and Stephen Hammond MP were criticised for poor management of the plans.
Launching the review or reforms across the coastguard, Louise Ellman MP, Chair of Transport Committee said, ” The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service” and “the government must rule out further closures and ensure that its reforms do not undermine safety”
Scotland has had two stations close despite fully tested replacement system not being in place yet no further stations have done so elsewhere in the UK. In time, other closures at Swansea, Liverpool, Brixham, Yarmouth, Portland and Thames will follow but the campaign group insist that the Scottish Government should be asking urgent questions about why the waters around Scotland have been singled out as a test bed for these plans.
The Closure of Clyde is one of the most controversial because of the nature of the waters that it protected and the variation in challenges posed by users of the West coast. Dennis O’Connor claims that the closure of the station proves that “the UK Government are not interested in addressing the genuine concerns and informed that have been raised and instead are intent on pushing through a blinkered policy of change”.
“The Minister has ignored legitimate concerns of Select Committees and advice from maritime experts, and so it is impossible for us not to see his continued stance as hostile. He is undermining the democratic process and in doing so rendering the role and responsibility of those Committee’s as worthless”.
Today HM Coastguard has been made less resilient through the actions of the UK Government and it will remain the case until the MCA and Department for Transport can prove beyond doubt that safety is genuinely their number one priority. This may only be achieved by publishing the details in full of how they intend to reasonably achieve their vision. Perhaps then we may have clarity on this sorry saga for the first time.
WESTMINSTER DAY OF SHAME AS CLYDE COASTGUARD CLOSES
SNP MSP Stuart McMillan has accused the UK government for creating an ‘unforgiveable threat’ to the users of Scotland’s busiest water area on the day that Clyde Coastguard shuts and hands responsibility over to Belfast and Stornoway stations.
Mr McMillan – who has campaigned tirelessly to save Clyde Coastguard – said:
“This is totally shameful. The UK government are prioritising saving money ahead of saving lives. The Tory Lib Dem philosophy of putting profit over people represents an unforgivable threat to the area and everyone who uses the Firth of Clyde.
“The Firth of Clyde is one of the busiest and strategically most important waterways in the UK.
“It is a part of Scotland that is loved by tourists and locals and has some of the best sailing waters in the world. Over 2.5million people travel on passenger ferry journeys every year.
“The river remains an important corridor for trading vessels and fishing boats alike. And until such time as we achieve an independent Scotland and get rid of Trident, the Clyde also houses the UK’s nuclear weapons.
“The UK government clearly think it’s a good idea to have no coastguard service located in an area with such a high concentration of activity. Everyone else knows it deeply wrong.
“To do away with a committed and efficient coastguard service with expert local knowledge leaves a void that could not be filled by already stretched centres in Belfast and Stornoway, excellent though these facilities are.”
Transport Select Committee on its report on UK coastguard situation – and National Coastguard SOS Campaign response
Posted on by ForArgyll.com newsroom
In issuing its report today [11th December] on the Department for Transport’s plans to modernise the coastguard service, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, in its press release, headlines what it has to say as: ‘Implementation of the Government’s modernisation programme risks damaging the coastguard.’
The committee’s introductory statement
Confusion about the role of the new national Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) and mixed messages about local knowledge and coastguard station closures has undermined staff morale across the service and caused an alarming vacancy rate amongst skilled staff, warns the Transport Committee in a review of the government’s reform programme for the Coastguard which found that coastguards are “disillusioned and confused”.
Launching the review or reforms across the coastguard, Louise Ellman MP, Chair of Transport Committee said, ” The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it is a great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010.
“Regrettably, the previous shipping minister was ambiguous about the timing of coastguard closures and this has dented staff morale across the service.
“There is a worrying lack of information about what coastguards at the MOC will actually do from day to day or how these new staff will work with local coastguards.
“The MCA’s stance in respect of the local knowledge which coastguards in co-ordination centres must have is also confusing and contradictory. In a response that the Committee described as “complacent and lacking in detail”, Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, suggested that local knowledge is not a requirement. The MCA needs to set out its strategy for staff training and articulate its vision of why coastguards in MRCCs need to gain and retain local knowledge. MCA management must schedule and remunerate staff to pursue this expertise, not leave them to organise themselves when they are off duty.”
The Committee also expresses concern about arrangements for Emergency Towing Vessels and plans for fire fighting at sea now that the Maritime Incident Response Group has been withdrawn.
The committee also calls for the Government to provide statistics on the age profile and length of service of coastguards at each MRCC and to set out its strategy for retaining experienced coastguards, particularly in terms of recruitment to positions based at the MOC.
Chair of the Committee, Louise Ellman added, “The programme of coastguard closures, the change in provision of emergency towing vessels and inadequate arrangements for fire fighting at sea are causing unrest and concern. The government must rule out further closures and ensure that its reforms do not undermine safety and make proper use of local knowledge when applicable.”
The Transport Committee published a report in June 2011 criticising the Government’s original proposals to modernise the Coastguard Service. This also condemned the Government’s decision to withdraw funding for emergency towing vessels, which helped protect the UK’s coastline from pollution from merchant shipping, and for a nautical fire-fighting initiative (the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG).
Ministers accepted the central recommendations on reform of the Coastguard Service, withdrawing their original proposals, bringing forward new ones, and consulting on them. Changes to emergency towing vessels and MIRG went ahead largely as planned, although the Government was unable to find a commercial alternative to a state-backed emergency towing vessel in the seas north of Scotland.
Opposition to the Government’s reforms has continued, focused in particular on defending coastguard stations which are scheduled to close. A year on the Committee has held a follow up inquiry looking at how the Government is implementing its revised reforms, taking oral evidence from coastguard trade unions, from the new shipping minister, Stephen Hammond MP, and from the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey KCB CBE.
The Scottish Affairs Committee also took oral evidence recently on the future of the Coastguard Service in Scotland. Echoing many concerns already identified by TSC, their report [hyperlinked] concluded the Government “has clearly failed so far to carry public opinion on the proposed changes” and must do more to explain the rationale for station closures.
TSC is also investigating procurement of a new, unified search and rescue helicopter service, which will entail the closure of helicopter bases at RAF Boulmer and Portland. It wrote earlier this month to the Secretary of State for Transport asking further questions about this procurement and to express disappointment at the Government’s decision not to undertake a public consultation about the closures. The Committee may return to this issue when it receives the minister’s reply.
Response to the report from the National Coastguard SOS Campaign
Coastguard campaigners have expressed delight as the Government are told “rule out further closures and ensure that its reforms do not undermine safety”.
National Coastguard SOS Campaigners say it’s too soon for Champagne corks to be popped but are delighted that the influential Transport Select Committee (TSC) has told the Government today that they must “rule out further closures and ensure that its reforms do not undermine safety”. Responding to the publishing of a TSC report into Government plans to axe UK Coastguard rescue coordination centres at Brixham, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Clyde, Swansea, Portland and Thames the group say that the document vindicates their continued opposition to the plan.
Launching the review of reforms across the Coastguard, Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport Committee said “ the manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it’s of great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010”.
Speaking on behalf of the Coastguard campaign group, Dennis O’Connor welcomed the strongly worded document and said: “We have been campaigning for two years against these plans which will increase risks to those who use the UK coast for commercial or leisure purposes and are delighted that the TSC recognise that concerns about the implementation and management of the closure plan falls far below what could be regarded as an acceptable standard”.
“We have insisted that the closure plan should be transparent and credible and it is evident from the report that the TSC remain concerned about the ambiguity of the plans, this is wholly unacceptable and indicates that the plan has been thrown together without sufficient thought towards safety, operational capability or to implementation”
The Committee states that “The MCA’s stance in respect of the local knowledge which coastguards in co-ordination centres must have is also confusing and contradictory. In a response that the Committee described as “complacent and lacking in detail”, Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, suggested that local knowledge is not a requirement. The MCA needs to set out its strategy for staff training and articulate its vision of why coastguards in MRCCs need to gain and retain local knowledge. MCA management must schedule and remunerate staff to pursue this expertise, not leave them to organise themselves when they are off duty.”
Campaigners insist that the loss of essential local knowledge as a result of station closures remains one of the campaigns most important issues. Mr. O’Connor said: “Little has been done to address adequately the obvious damage to operational capability that would occur with the drain of experienced officers.
“They are leaving the service and with them years of experience and local knowledge is also disappearing. Despite being warned of this by Coastguard officers, maritime stakeholders and Coastguard campaigners, the importance of this seems to have escaped successive Shipping Ministers and senior MCA officials”.
The committee also calls for the Government to provide statistics on the age profile and length of service of coastguards at each MRCC and to set out its strategy for retaining experienced coastguards, particularly in terms of recruitment to positions based at the MOC.
Mr. O’Connor underlines the importance of this statement by explaining that: “There is nothing to suggest that the MCA have addressed the significant numbers of staff leaving the service or the apparent lack of interest in any taking up positions at the MOC.
“Even if the MCA were to be successful in recruiting new staff to remaining stations and to the MOC, it is likely that this will come at a significant financial cost and would serve only to undermine the operational experience and quality of Coastguard officers at those centres.”
Despite the damning report, Dennis O’Connor insists that the Coastguard SOS campaign is not over until a formal announcement is made by Ministers. “We believe that this should happen immediately but our immediate fears are with the staff of Clyde Coastguard which has effectively been closed for the past month although the official closure date remains 18th December.
“We echo the recommendations of the Committee and call upon the Prime Minister to stop the closure plan with immediate effect and return full operational status to Clyde Coastguard so that their officers may resume their role of ensuring safety on the West coast of Scotland”
Note: For Argyll’s analysis of the picture distilled from the Transport Select Committee’s report is here: Transport Select Committee takes the pants off Dad’s Army coastguard modernisation plans.
Transport Select Committee takes the pants off Dad’s Army coastguard modernisation plans
This is something of an ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ moment. What is to follow is a parliamentary select committee’s view of what could be a fully qualified and long running episode of Dad’s Army.
This is where we see the maritime and marine environmental safety of the nation in the hands – or rather slipping through the fingers – of a collection of ignorant but highly ranked ministers and professional camp followers whose lack of organisational ability and capacity to confuse is somewhere between the brusque bluffing of Captain Mainwaring and the eternal optimism of the gently demented Private Godfrey.
Reading the evidence and conclusions of the report, Sir Alan Massey CEO of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency [MCA] is in the Mainwaring role, with answers of his being described in the report as ‘complacent and lacking in detail’.
The hapless current Shipping Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, morphs all too easily into Private Godfrey, with the report noting caustically that: ‘The Minister’s remark that coastguards were happier than their evidence to us suggested would have had more credibility if he had chosen to visit a coastguard station rather than simply rely on advice from MCA management.’
The wholesale revision of maritime safety and rescue coordination for the entire UK now revolves around a new system with under half of the former number of coastguard Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres [MRCCs].
At the heart of this reduced nationwide system – and the report notes that ‘Clyde and Forth seem to have been earmarked for early closure for financial reasons’ – is a single Maritime Operations Centre [MOC] based at Fareham in the Solent area on the south coast of England.
No one has been able to detail to the Select Committee the specific operations of this MOC but it is supposed to add ‘resilience’ to the system no one can describe either.
The report says: ‘…neither he [the MCA’s Sir Alan Massey] nor the Minister [Stephen Hammond] was able to explain what the MOC, with its 96 staff, would add to existing arrangements at times when a major incident was not occurring.’ [It is of note that the staff of 96 proposed for the MOC is no less than 22% of the entire planned establishment of the revised service – 436. That means a full establishment, 22% of whose mainstream functions no one is able to detail. Does that not look genuinely ripe for cost cutting?]
The single known purpose for the MOC is to coordinate the response to major incidents that would be beyond the capacity of the MRCCs – although quite how it will coordinate such incidents is again beyond the powers of the Minister or Sir Alan Massey to describe to the committee.
The MOC will not be in operation before 2015 but even the promise of its awesome capability – whatever that may be – is enough for existing coastguard stations to be closed before then anyway – like Forth [closed in September 2012] and Clyde [due to shut on 18th December 2012]; followed by Solent, Portland, Yarmouth and Brixham [due to go before the end of 2014].
Indeed, the fully Ruritanian possibility is that, should there be any further delay in the coming onstream of the mighty MOC, every single one of the nine condemned Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centres will have closed before it goes live. Liverpool, Thames and Swansea are down for the chop by the end of 2015.
This scenario is not at all outlandish, with the report noting that: ‘Finding experienced staff willing to
transfer to the new MOC in Fareham may prove particularly difficult.’
Quite how the retained eight Rescue Coordination Centres will operate without the MOC and with the progressive loss of nine Rescue Coordination Centre, in a service with reduced staffs and greater responsibilities, will be quickly seen in the first major maritime incident which, over a period of three years to 2015, cannot be ruled out.
One of the Select Committee’s concluding recommendations amounts to sending the government back to school to provide and test the evidence for what they plan.
They say: ‘We recommend that the Government urgently address this concern, starting by including in its reply to this report a range of scenarios typically faced by coastguards across the UK and how MOC and MRCC coastguards will be expected to work together to address them in future.’
And the committee has noted that there appears to be no plan for staff at the MOC to have any local knowledge at all, even though they will coordinate the responses to major incidents anywhere in the UK, in a situation where MRCCs may work in daytime hours only.
The blind following the blind – but there’ll be a database… sometime
Serving coastguard officers – whose numbers have already fallen – have no idea how the new system is to work. No one has told them. Yet it is in operation already with Forth Coastguard now closed and Clyde due to close in days.
The reason why no one has told them how the new system works is because the leaders themselves don’t know and have been unable to enlighten the Select Committee.
The MCA and the Department for Transport intend to replace local knowledge embodied in the experienced coastguard officers [of which, on the indications, they will now have very few] with a ‘database that allows multiple names to be applied to any coastal feature or place in order that local as well as Gaelic or Welsh names are available for search.’
So what exactly does an uninformed non-Gaelic-speaking coastguard officer type into the search engine on this database to target the location of an incident – having heard a Gaelic named reference point spoken on VHF or a mobile phone by a mariner in trouble who is not themselves a Gaelic speaker?
You really could not make this up.
But the MCA’s Sir Alan Massey is particularly fond of this solution and scornful of the value of actual knowledge. He said to the committee: ‘What does one gain from doing it? I don’t know.’
The Select Committee report puts the position succinctly: ‘Over the next three years, when several MRCCs close, there is a clear risk that local knowledge will be lost. Either local knowledge is a requirement for the role of coastguard in an MRCC or it is not, as Sir Alan Massey suggested.’
The contradictions come between Sir Alan Massey’s genuine dismissal of the value of local knowledge – alongside the repetition to the committee of the ways in which coastguard officers in the new system [whatever it is] will be assisted to acquire this unnecessary local knowledge.
However, as the report notes, ‘Shetland coastguards say that they have been left to pick up local knowledge from their colleagues in Aberdeen without any structured process and in their own time. The chief executive of the MCA has questioned the need for coastguards to have local knowledge at all.’
The report concludes that there is real risk of loss of local knowledge the committee clearly sees as unacceptable: ‘We recommend that any work to develop and foster local knowledge should be organised by MCA management, properly scheduled, and remunerated, not left to coastguards to organise themselves when they are off duty. ‘ [This being the Dad’s Army plan.]
The wider context
The current plans not only establish for at least three years an essentially rudderless Maritime Rescue Coordination service but they do so in the context of a single Emergency Towing Vessel [ETV] based in the Northern Isles.
This is on contracted on one year contracts only until 2015 and replaces the two former ETV’s [based in The Minches and the Fair Isle Channel] which the government has refused to continue to fund and for which it has been unable to find any alternative commercial service.
ETVs were introduced in 1994 ‘on the recommendation of Lord Donaldson following a review of pollution from merchant shipping. Their core work was to intercept disabled ships, bring them under control and tow them to safety.’
Quite how a single ETV based in the Northern Isles will get to a disabled ship in The Minches in time to prevent an environmental disaster is in the lap of the Gods rather than in the Exchequer.
The report’s recommendations here are that: ‘… the Government clarify by spring 2014 the ETV arrangements it will have in place in Scottish waters from 2015; and confirm whether or not it is in discussions with the Scottish Government to devolve ETV provision. We also recommend that the Government explain how an ETV stationed in the northern isles can effectively serve the west coast, including by providing estimates of journey different sea and weather conditions.’
We note that when the self-discharging bulk carrier, Yeoman Bontrup, went on fire at Glensanda Quarry in Argyll [photo, top] on 2nd July 2010, in the most serious incident possible, it took the then Stornoway-based ETV, Anglian Sovereign, seven hours to get down to her – and that was at its considerable speed. The substantial additional time it would have taken the ETV to come down from the Northern Isles would probably have seen her sink at her berth. Well loaded when she went on fire, had she sunk there the entire superquarry would have been finished. The site and its loading jetty can be approached only by sea. There is no land access for haulage – or for firefighting.
And talking of fire fighting at sea, the security of this Dad’s Army plan for the safety of Britain’s mariners, leisure sailors, watersports enthusiasts, marine and shoreline environments has been further compromised by the absolute removal – in December 2011 and on cost grounds – of the former MIRG. This was the ‘Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG), a partnership between the MCA and the Fire and Rescue Service formed in 2006 to respond to incidents at sea for which fire-fighting, chemical hazard and/or rescue teams are required.’
The report notes that: ‘As with ETVs, witnesses remain unreconciled to the loss of MIRG’; and says: ‘We remain of the view that the decision to end funding of MIRG was short-sighted.’
It concludes: ‘We recommend that the Government explain why the Flaminia case would not have been dealt with better had a state-contracted ETV and MIRG capability been available.’
The incident referred to here is from 14th July 2012 when the MSC Flaminia, a container ship, reported that the crew on board had been forced to abandon their ship after an explosion and subsequent fire in a cargo hold mid Atlantic. 24 of the3 25 crew were eventually rescued in scenes of fiercely burning and collapsing containers. Rescue helicopters did not have the endurance required to attend an incident of this nature because the Flaminia was approximately 1,000 miles from land, midway between the UK and Canada.
After the fire was eventually brought under control and the ship taken under tow, European maritime authorities were slow in granting approval for her to enter territorial waters but, on 22nd August, permission was granted for the German flagged ship to be towed into German waters and enter a port of refuge. She arrived at Wilhelmshaven on 9th September 2012
The committee, in its conclusions, says: ‘We were concerned that comments by Sir Alan Massey about the small number of coastguard stations in other countries – 1 in Norway, 3 in Canada – reflect a view in Government that there should be more MRCC closures in the foreseeable future. We call on the Government to rule this out and confirm that the new arrangements for the Coastguard Service are intended to last for a generation.’
Read the report for yourself – it is well written and compelling. This is the copy we were given yesterday, overprinted [but perfectly legible] as embargoed from any kind of publication until 00.01 on Tuesday 10th December: Coastguard – Embargoed full report.
It is worth noting that this is the second report and from the second hearing on this matter by the Transport Select Committee, who by now are well informed on this issue and have indicated that they will return to it to review implementation.
Read also the parallel article here containing the press release from the Transport Select Committee on the publication of its report today, 11th December 2012; and the response to the report from the National Coastguard SOS Campaign.
Sir Alan Massey was once skipper of HMS Campbeltown, a Type 22 Broadsword class frigate, decommissioned on 30th June 2011.
The Transport Select Committee has announced that the report from its unusual second inquiry into matters relating to HM coastguard reorganisation will be published on Tuesday 11th December.
The report is concerned with two major issues:
- the plan to withdraw the Emergency Towing Vessels from the sea areas off the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland in particular, now becoming a major focus for new oil and gas exploration;
- the closure of UK Coastguard rescue coordination centres – with Forth closed at the end of September, Clyde already degraded and due to close formally on 18th December, and Swansea, Portland, Liverpool, Brixham, Thames and Yarmouth ticketed for the slipway – with their sea areas added to the responsibilities of other existing stations.
In the two years following the announcement on 10th December 2010 that the Government intended to close UK Coastguard rescue coordination centres, the National Coastguard SOS Campaign Group have continued to highlight the concerns of Coastguard Officers, mariners and the public.
The publishing of the inquiry report by the Transport Select Committee follows a second inquiry in-which the concerns regarding the safety and robustness of the closure programme were evident.
The National Campaign SOS campaign group is understandably hopeful that the Committee has taken on board the legitimate concerns of maritime safety stakeholders.
The campaign hopes that the Transport Select Committee has recognised that the contents of its report will, by consent or challenge, effectively ‘shape the future of HM Coastguard’.
We expect a full statement from the Coastguard SOS group to follow the publication of the report next Tuesday.
Note: Members of the Transport Select Committee are: Mrs Louise Ellman (Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool Riverside) (Chair); Steve Baker (Conservative, Wycombe); Jim Dobbin (Labour/Co-operative, Heywood and Middleton); Julie Hilling (Labour, Bolton West); Kwasi Kwarteng (Conservative, Spelthorne); Mr John Leech (Liberal Democrat, Manchester Withington); Karen Lumley (Conservative, Redditch); Karl McCartney (Conservative, Lincoln); Lucy Powell (Manchester Central); Iain Stewart (Conservative, Milton Keynes South); Graham Stringer (Labour, Blackley and Broughton).
The National Coastguard SOS campaign has let us know that, effective as of this evening, Clyde Coastguard will to all intents and purposes be closed, with Belfast and Stornoway taking responsibility for the area.
Details contained in a leaked Maritime & Coastguard Agency document confirm this to be the case.
It states: ‘Clyde closes on 18th December 2012. However the work to complete the aerial transfers to MRCC Belfast and MRCC Stornoway is on schedule to complete on Friday of this week and the intention is to hand control of the aerials to Belfast and Stornoway on Friday evening. This will happen at the Clyde watch changeover time (2000UTC). By this time the 999 calls will have been diverted by postcode to Belfast or Stornoway as appropriate and the Clyde routine calls will have been diverted to Belfast’.
The document goes on to say that: ‘the watch-keepers remaining at MRCC Clyde until the 18th December will from Friday evening be working in support of Belfast and Stornoway and will shadow incidents and monitor traffic offering advice and guidance to colleagues at Belfast and Stornoway as appropriate’.
It also states that only three staff will be on watch during the period 16th November – 18th December.
Dennis O’Connor for the National Coastguard SOS Campaign group, says: ‘this effectively means that Clyde will cease to exist operationally from tonight.
‘This move by the MCA is a further direct challenge to the Transport Select Committee who recently voiced serious concerns that the closure programme had already begun in September with the closure of Forth Coastguard despite assurances that the replacement system of operation would be fully tested before any closures took place.
‘This further development shows that there is an apparent desire by some to rush through the closure plan and we urge Members of Parliament to ask the Secretary of State for Transport to investigate the tactics that are being employed by his departments’.
We have also been told that Belfast Coastguard took over the Clyde Coastguard aerials/ and telephone system last night and suffered a complete radio communication and 999 facility failure.
This meant that effectively Belfast were blind both to Clyde’s area of responsibility and that of their own.
It was left to Liverpool Coastguard to maintain radio communications for the whole of the Irish Sea and beyond whilst the fault persisted, which meant that Belfast had no means whatsoever to communicate with anyone, public, merchant vessels or Emergency Service colleagues.
The fault persisted for around two hours which necessitated the handing over of all systems back to Clyde.
Mr O’Connor says, with good reason: ‘this proves that what the MCA and DfT would have us believe is progress is in actual fact an act of utter craziness.
‘They are ill prepared to begin the closure programme and just appear to be hoping that all will be alright on the night.
‘Clearly this is not going to be the case and it’s time that the Shipping Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, became more transparent and admitted the failings and shortcomings in the Government’s plan before in results in tragic consequences’.
Scottish Affairs publishes report on HM Coastguard in Scotland 15 November 2012 .
Loss of local knowledge in Scottish Coastguard closures risks threat to quality of rescue service, says Committee. The Government must ensure service is maintained at same high standard, and do more to reassure the public.
The Future of HM Coastguard in Scotland. Scottish Affairs Committee.
In a report published today, Thursday 15 November 2012, the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee says it is very worried about the decision to close two of Scotland’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres and says Government must do more to explain the rationale for the decision and how it will ensure that the same high standard of service is maintained, with fewer resources.
The Committee is “deeply concerned” that despite an extensive Government consultation, those on the front line felt they had been excluded from the process. It says there has been no satisfactory explanation for the decision to close Clyde and Forth MRCCs, which will leave the central belt of Scotland, where the population is most densely concentrated, without a Coastguard station.
The Committee is particularly concerned at the loss of local knowledge resulting from the closures, saying it seems that for a time at least that there will be a major gap in local knowledge among coastguards in the remaining four MRCCs. It says the Government has “clearly failed” so far to make a convincing case for, or carry public opinion on, the proposed changes to HM Coastguard, and must do more to provide reassurance to seafarers who may need to contact the coastguard in an emergency.
Both the Minister and the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have assured the Committee that robust and extensive testing was being done before the closure of Clyde Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre to ensure that the stations taking over its area of responsibility would do so seamlessly and continue to provide the level of search and rescue cover which the public has a right to expect. The Committee understands the Government’s argument that the changes are intended to allow HM Coastguard to do more, better, with less, and says it “hopes that this is indeed the case”.
The Committee says Government must keep it updated on the impact of the proposed changes, and provide reassurance after 31 December 2012 that the Scottish coastline is still being served to the same high standard as before.
Committee members with parts of their constituencies most directly affected by the changes commented on the report:
Lindsay Roy MP said:
“The report emphasises strongly that local knowledge has often been paramount in ensuring successful search and rescue operations. This was stressed by the local coastguard professionals but it would appear that their advice has gone unheeded. Along with many people in the Fife and Tay estuaries in particular, I remain concerned about the premature closure of Fife Ness station. The estuaries have become increasingly busy over recent years, with growth in commercial shipping and leisure activities, both offshore and along the coastlines.
The coastguard team at Fife Ness , who have now lost their jobs, deserve our heartfelt gratitude for doing such an excellent job over many years, dealing effectively with a whole range of incidents The new arrangements must be as robust as the government claims. I hope that we will never be in a position when a tragedy will strike, partly because of lack of local knowledge, as they try to do ‘more, better with less’!”
Iain McKenzie MP said:
“The government’s decision to close two of Scotland’s Maritime Rescue co-ordination Centres is wrong and deeply concerning. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has taken evidence from a number of coastguard experts and the Save our Coastguard campaigners who agree that the decision to centralise and close Coastguard stations will have major safety implications for the west coast of Scotland and will impact on services throughout Scotland. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee is backing the peoples call to reverse this decision. The committee will also request regular progress updates on the changes taking place surrounding the Coastguard and will hold the Government accountable for any safety breaches caused by their decision.”
Alan Reid MP said:
“I am very concerned about the loss of local knowledge when the Clyde coastguard station is closed. It will take time for Belfast and Stornoway to build up a detailed knowledge of Clyde’s area. The commitments given to the Committee by the Minister and the MCA Chief Executive that robust and extensive testing will be carried out before Clyde closes are vitally important. The Government must report back to the Committee on how the MCA are implementing the transfer of Clyde’s responsibilities to Belfast and Stornoway.”
4.10.12 – Quote from Russell Brown MP:
I am hopeful that the UK government’s reshuffle, which saw a new Transport Secretary take his post, will mean it may be open to rethinking its Coastguard cuts. It made a grave error with its announcement last year to close both Coastguard stations that cover Dumfries and Galloway. Our region has over 200 miles of coastline and it beggars belief that any government would recklessly put lives at risk in a bid to save cash. The in-depth knowledge built up at the Liverpool and Clyde Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres will be lost forever. I am seeking an urgent meeting with new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to make it clear the government needs to reverse its decision.
Scottish Affairs Committee questions Minister and Coastguard Chief on proposed reforms to the Coastguard in Scotland
On 18.09.12 The Scottish Affairs Committee questioned the recently appointed UK Shipping Minister; Stephen Hammond MP and the CEO of the Maritime ^ Coastguard Agency (MCA); Sir Alan Massey in Westminster over Government plans to close Coastguard rescue coordination centres at Forth and Clyde.
With an on-going Transport Select Committee inquiry currently in progress it was evident MP’s questioning would inevitably seek to clarify points of particular concern whilst remaining mindful of the TSC inquiry. There would be no point, after all in attempting the impossible task of covering all points which are already being looked at.
The members of the Committee and the Chairman were diligent in their questioning and despite obvious attempts on times to skirt the question, both Mr Hammond and Sir Alan Massey were brought back to clarify or quantify their responses.
Having been recently appointed, Mr Hammond was clearly always going to be out of his depth and this was immediately evident when he read out a statement which had been pre-prepared. Anyone listening could be forgiven for thinking that the statement came from the pen of the previous incumbent of the Shipping portfolio; Mike Penning MP because the well worn words cut no ice with anyone. And so it went on.
Sir Alan Massey once again appeared like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The jury is still out as to whether or not he is actually comfortable with this appalling plan which undoubtedly will increase the risk to life. He is a intelligent man but clearly, earlier appearances in front of Westminster MP’s has done little to make him appear as if he is actually convinced that the plan is the safe way to proceed. Several times he had to resort to responding to the Committee that he would “get back to them” with an answer to a question and on several occasions Mr Hammond had to step in to bail him out when floundering. If this was not such a serious issue then it would have appeared somewhat comical.
The upshot is that the MCA and DfT are set to continue to ignore the opinion of industry experts and will continue to trot out lame lines in order to justify their actions. The Committee should be congratulated for the way they negotiated their way through troubled waters. It is my opinion at least that they did stand up for their communities in a dignified and professional manner….it’s just a pity that nobody at the DfT or MCA can do the same.
After 21 months, the plan to close Coastguard stations remains flawed and the DfT and MCA are incapable of facing this fact. Their actions are shameful and we can only hope that the TSC inquiry will once again find them wanting and finally that the authors of this appalling plan will be sacked for gross negligence.
View the fill session here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11431
McMillan Welcomes Further Support from Scot Gov to Clyde Coastguard
Stuart McMillan MSP SNP has today (Tuesday) welcomed the news the Scottish Government Minister for Transport, Keith Brown MSP making a last-ditch plea to save some of Scotland’s coastguard stations from closure and is urging the UK Government to reconsider plans to reduce emergency cover.
Keith Brown MSP has submitted further evidence at the request of the Commons Select Committee for Transport, following their previous inquiry into Coastguard Modernisation, Emergency Towing Vessel removal and changes to the MIRG (Maritime Incident Support Group) which were published in June last year.
Despite changes in the UK Government’s stance in relation to the Coastguard closures, Scotland is still scheduled to lose one ETV, reducing cover by 50 per cent, and see two of its coastguard stations – Clyde and Forth – closed.
Mr McMillan said:
“I welcome the continued assistance and pressure from the Scottish Government to overturn the ludicrous decision by the UK coalition Government to close Clyde Coastguard.
“As we are fully aware the Clyde is one of the busiest waterways throughout these islands and its survival is vital in dealing with the many daily situations and utilising the local knowledge of its staff.
“Only last week, I wrote to the new Secretary of State for Transport to encourage him to overturn the decision taken by his previous incumbent to close Clyde coastguard. I hope he will see sense and rethink the decision to close Clyde.
“Once again, the SNP Government is standing up for the interests of Scotland against the backdrop of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition hell bent on cutting jobs and potentially putting lives further at risk on the Clyde.”
Keith Brown in bid to halt Clyde and Forth Coastguard closures
Scotland’s transport minister has made a “last ditch plea” to save Clyde and Forth coastguard stations from closure.
Keith Brown said the closures and planned loss of an emergency towing vessel put Scotland at the centre of a “potentially dangerous experiment”.
He has outlined the case for retaining services in evidence submitted to the Commons Select Committee on Transport.
Mr Brown also wants to meet with the new UK transport and shipping ministers following last week’s reshuffle.
The UK government is closing eight coastguard stations as part of a modernisation plan.
Other centres set to close include Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Thames, Swansea, Brixham and Portland.
The Clyde and Forth stations are due to close by the end of the year.
Centres in Belfast and Stornoway will, according to the UK government, take on the Clyde station’s operations, without affecting safety.
Responsibilities for the Forth operations will transfer to Aberdeen and Shetland.
Mr Brown said he had submitted further evidence at the request of the Commons Select Committee for Transport, following their previous inquiry into coastguard modernisation.
The plans will boost the level of support we give to volunteer coastguard rescue offices in their local communities, enhancing frontline rescue services”
UK Department for Transport
He said the Scottish government had “consistently opposed the closures” and had “lobbied the UK government to reverse the decisions”.
The minister said that following last week’s UK cabinet reshuffle, he was also seeking “an urgent meeting with the new UK shipping minister and new UK transport secretary”.
“I’m keen for talks to take place as soon as possible with the new shipping minister to see if a new minister will mean a change of mind over the fate of essential maritime services,” he said.
“Since the original report last year the UK government has watered down coastguard closures, but Scotland is still very much in the firing line.
“This is too important an issue to gamble with. The UK government’s proposed coastguard closures effectively mean cover falling from seven stations to three in just over a decade, leading to a loss of critical local knowledge and expertise.”
Mr Brown said Clyde Coastguard was “the busiest rescue and co-ordination centre in Scotland, and among the busiest in the UK”.
“We are not convinced by reassurances that adequate cover can be provided by resources from Belfast and Stornoway,” he said.
“At present Scotland will be the first area to lose stations and stations will be shut before the system has been robustly tested.
“We should not be the guinea pig for such a potentially dangerous experiment.”
A spokesman for the UK department for transport said: “Our reforms to modernise the Coastguard follow two periods of extensive public consultation and will deliver a more resilient fully-networked national system that is fit for the 21st century.
“The plans will boost the level of support we give to volunteer coastguard rescue offices in their local communities, enhancing frontline rescue services.
“These changes are continuing in line with the timetable and blueprint we published last November.”
Bizarre as it may seem, the Maritime and Coastguard Association [MCA] is hoping to justify the UK Government proposal – to which it has agreed -to close 50% of Coastguard rescue coordination centres at Liverpool, Brixham, Clyde, Portland, Thames, Swansea, Forth and Yarmouth.
The Government plan is to centralise incident coordination responsibilities and distribute the workload to quieter stations. For instance, this would see the busy Clyde Coastguard closed by the end of this year and its massive and complex sea area transferred to the responsibility of the quieter Belfast Station.
Belfast already has responsibility for the coast of Northern Ireland, including its sea lochs, between the northern coastal border with the Republic of Ireland at Lough Foyle and the eastern border at Carlingford Lough. Under the proposed rearrangements, Belfast would also take on Clyde Cloastguard’s huge sea area from the Mull of Galloway to Ardnamurchan Point – including the islands of Arran, Cumbrae and Bute and all of the sea lochs in the Clyde waterway system – and the Atlantic Islands of Islay, Jura, Colonsay, Gigha, Coll, Tiree, The Treshnish Isles, Iona, Mull, the Slate Isles, Lismore and Kerrera.
Much of this is in Argyll and the Isles, whose coastline is longer than that of France.
The complexity of this sea area is bewildering enough for those who live here never mind those who do not.
Local knowledge is, of course, vital in identifying accurately where a casualty is located in order to instruct a lifeboat or SAR helicopter correctly.
It is true that with the movement of coastguard staff around the various UK stations, there will be coastguards at the Belfast station who have worked at Clyde and will have had knowledge of this sea area. But that knowledge will not be current and may not be deeply embedded in the memory of the officer concerned.
Clyde Coastguard’s is arguably the most complex sea area in the UK – and it takes no more than five minutes with as bland and uninformative a document as a road map to establish this fact.
Coastguard campaigners are adamant that the planned amalgamation of areas of responsibility can only increase the risks involved. In some areas this risk will centre on the volumes of commercial shipping, In others, like much of Clyde Coastguard’s, the risk will centrally be to the leisure sailing sector which is a lively feature of such waters and coastlines.
Speaking on behalf of the National Coastguard SOS group, Dennis O’Connor says: ‘The planned closure of Coastguard rescue coordination centres is not based upon operational reasoning.
‘We are very concerned that insufficient consideration has been given to the affect that the loss of stations will have on coastal communities and on the safety of those who use the coast for recreational and commercial purposes.
‘The planned centralisation of incident coordination has been rejected by Coastguard officers and campaigners because essential local knowledge will be lost.
‘The Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) are pinning everything on the trials of (as yet) unproven technology to ‘capture’ local knowledge but with the first of the stations due to close in a matter of weeks it is highly likely that key knowledge will be lost’.
The MCA’s wish-list plan is so surreal as to make one ask if they have found a way to hoover the contents of a specific part of a serving officer’s memory into a data store and simultaneously translate them into digital format?
There is no substitute for local knowledge.
A data bank will reveal that there are three sea lochs called ‘Tarbert’ within Clyde coastguard’s area. It will not be able to tell which of these is the site of the distressed casualty. The location of these lochs is such that a mistaken instruction to a lifeboat could not be rectified in tie to get to the correct location unless the situation was very far from being an emergency.
Has the UK Government reshuffle enabled an informed rethink?
In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening MP, was replaced by Patrick McLoughlin MP. At the same time Shipping Minister, Mike Penning MP – who has been a central figure in plans to close Coastguard stations, was replaced by Stephen Hammond MP.
Dennis O’Connor says: ‘The recent reshuffle has brought fresh hope that the new Ministers will adopt more of an open dialogue approach and will urgently reconsider the closure programme.
‘We have written to both Mr McLoughlin and Mr Hammond requesting a meeting at their earliest convenience in order that we may be able to assess the affect that the change in Ministers will have on the closure plans’.
It is certainly important for rational and informed decision taking that the new ministers should choose to meet with those who actually know the score on the impact of the current proposals at an operational level.
Mr Hammond’s CV betrays no experience of personal or professional knowledge of matters maritime or even marine. Although born and educated in Southampton, he was a city financier by profession and has been deeply engaged in politics since the late 180s. He is MP for Wimbledon, whose nearest coastguard station is some way away.
The new Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP, is from Staffordshire, trained in agriculture and from a mining family whose example he followed. He has no natural affinity with the maritime world nor, indeed, with the aviation world which, with the row over the third runway for Heathrow, is likely to be his most pressing concern.
The coastguard campaigners and those of us who know how important the coastguard service is, can only hope that both new ministers in this department will recognise the limitations on their understanding and see the wisdom of meeting and listening to the information from the coastguards.
Submissions to the Transport Select Committee
Campaigners fighting controversial cuts to the UK Coastguard service have submitted their formal response to the Transport Select Committee Inquiry who are examining the affect that closures will have on coastal areas.
Despite two public consultations, the National Coastguard SOS Campaign Group remain concerned that the plan remains dangerously flawed.
Submissions to the Transport Select Committee inquiry must be received no later than 14th September.
The SOS campaign group are urging maritime stakeholders and the public to submit their concerns.
The will to SaveClydeCoastguard reddened the skies and crowded the Esplanade at Greenock tonight (31st August 2012) – a dreich evening with lowering clouds, rain mist and a spectacle that went from atmospheric, to intriguingly pretty to dramatic – all in the space of 30 minutes.
The gathering of the flotilla started from before 7.00pm, with the muster instructed to be in place by 8.00pm.
Boats of all kinds started emerging in ones and twos and groups from the mist – cruise boats, yachts, motor boats, ribs, a police boat, sea kayaks – all dependant on Clyde Coastguard for their sea safety.
The clouds threatened a soaking they did not deliver – but added a symbol of the threat the much valued Clyde Coastguard service is under.
One group paddled over the Clyde from the direction of Helensburgh – and a lone boardsailor (below) tacked an exotic path through the fleet.
The Esplanade filled with cars, disgorging their passengers to join the walkers – all ages, families, children, dogs, umbrellas, patrolling police.
As the flotilla gathered, navigation lights came on – even the kayaks had their lights. It was such a party and achingly beautiful.
Down on the well groomed foreshore below the Coastguard HQ on the headland, kayaks (above) started to gather – in the end there were about 18 of them.
Later a phalanx of Coastguard officers lined the edge of the tide in black silence, ready to light the place up when the fun began (see below).
A long passing Lys Line cargo boat lent her lights to the carnival.
On the water in a small rubber tender – his own boat is out of the water – was event organiser, John Houston, there to communicate with the flotilla.
John’s young son, Aidan, had earlier tried (and failed) to book a seat for the trip.
When the flares went off the images were enchanting, beguiling, amazing, magnetic. You couldn’t tear your eyes away.
It wasn’t just the light, the colour, the drama and the surprises. It was the smoke, the shadows, the silhouettes, the reflections on the water, the twinkles of the navigation lights when they shone through – and the airborne flares .
This was the heart of users of the sea – and those who wish they were – coming together in solidarity with those dedicated to keeping them safe over complex and difficult waters and coastlines from the Mull of Galloway, well to the south in the Irish Sea to Ardnamurchan Point – far to the north west, the most westerly point of mainland UK.
Go and find these places on a map and get a sense of the territory Clyde Coastguard has to cover. And, as we all know here, Argyll alone has a coastline longer than that of France, with its fingered coastline, long penetrating sea lochs and at least 30 islands.
Imagine how much you need to know about an area like this to be able to direct lifeboats and SAR helicopters accurately to the right place. This is job where a misdirection or an approximation costs lives.
Now look at the map and find Lough Foyle, the huge sea loch bang in the middle of the north coast of Ireland; Rathlin Island, offshore at the NW corner of Ireland; and Carlingford Lough, the long fjord-like east coast sea loch, right on the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Then look at the two massive inland lochs in Northern Ireland, the great hole in the middle that is Lough Neagh – and running out to the Atlantic on the west coast, Lough Erne, said to have an island for every day of the year.
This sea area and these lochs are the territory covered by Belfast Coastguard, a smaller station than Clyde.
The UK Government at Westminster, through the wisdom of a desk-bound Shipping Minister with no experience of the sea, wants to cut costs by scrubbing the vital Clyde Coastguard and get Belfast to cover all of the combined waters, coastlines and inland lochs and coasts.
The supine Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has gone along with whatever Westminster says.
At one point it had agreed to Westminster’s notion of closing ALL of the Scottish Coastguard stations except Aberdeen.
The Scottish Government has also been oddly quiescent in all of this.
Standing up for Scotland? Evidently not. Even though the Forth station is also to close, leaving the two major shipping ports at west and east of Scotland’s economic engine of the Central Belt.
John Houston ‘s post-event briefing mentioned:
- around 40 boats
- sailboats, kayaks, power boats, cruisers, etc
- around 80 red flares used (average 2 per boat)
- the event ran to schedule – active from just about 20.15-20.20)
He also noted that Clyde Coastguard had had a call about a flare in Dumbarton/Langbank area – which turned out to be a genuine distress signal. A casualty was rescued without any negative impact from the demonstration.
Mr Houston paid tribute to the skippers of the boats, all of whom did a marvellous job, sticking securely to the guidelines given.
There were no reports of accidents or incidents as a result of letting off the flares.
Tonight, on Greenock’s splendid Esplanade and on the waters off it, voters who care about the sea and about safety on the sea made their feelings clear. They get the imperative to save Clyde Coastguard from its imminent closure at the end of this year – by dictat from London.
They were those who earn their living from the sea, who take their leisure on it and who are drawn to its mystery and power.
They are right.
The Scottish Government – that will not fight for Scotland’s coastal waters – is wrong.
The Westminster Government that counts coins of more value than lives and is prepared to see Scotland not only vulnerable but profoundly de-skilled in negotiating with the waters that surround and define it – is wrong.
The people tonight are right.
Please don’t stop here. Make your constituency and List MSPs aware of your will to see Clyde Coastguard retained.
Write to the media. Comment on For Argyll. Keep doing all of this until the game is won. Think of the consequences of the alternative – if it is lost.
Public meeting to save Clyde Coastguard TONIGHT 14 June 2012 at Gamble Halls, Gourock 6-8pm.
Please turn out to show your support for your Coastguard
|Public Meeting We will be holding a Public Meeting on Thursday 14thJune 2012 at Gamble Halls, Gourock from 6pm to 8pm.Please come and join us and let your views on the closure of Clyde Coastguard Station be known.|
The staff at Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre Clyde are extremely concerned that the proposals put forward by the MCA are entirely driven by saving money and do not take into consideration the safety of the people that make their living from and use the waters of the West of Scotland for leisure.
Staffing The staffing levels at Clyde are a concern to the staff, where we should have 30 watch keepers we currently have only 20. To maintain our June Risk Assessed levels 97 overtime slots have been identified. In order to fill these slots each member of staff would require doing 5 overtime shifts each, however only 14 staff do overtime, which would require everyone to do 7 shifts each to cover the shortfall. Each overtime slot requires 12 hours to have it covered.In July and August the Risk Assessment levels raise to coincide with our busiest time, at the same time staff with families would wish to take their leave, this will see even more shifts needing cover. Other stations in Scotland have the similar problems!
This can neither be good for the health of the staff nor the safety of the mariner.
Handing over co-ordination MCA Management have decided that we will be handing co-ordination of Clyde district over to Belfast Coastguard from 10am until 4pm on the 7th & 8thJune 2012. (Thursday & Friday).Staff are concerned that the Local Knowledge, IT Equipment and the Health and Safety of the Staff is not adequate.
There have been some issues with the IT equipment that the Agency planned to use.
They are now having to take a different route which costs more money.
Where is this coming from?
Statistics According to MIS – the MCA incident database – the following table shows the incidents dealt with so far in 2012 by the stations in the Scotland and Northern Ireland.
These figures show clearly where the majority of incidents occur and that the removal of MRCC Clyde will significantly increase the risk to the people using the waters of the west of Scotland.
It is worth noting that MRCC Clyde had more incidents in May than either Stornoway or Shetland has had in 2012.
Questions to be asked by MPs Thousands of letters were sent to the Mike Penning last year. No-one has had a reply to date. Why?Katy Clark MP North Ayrshire asked for all documentation relating to Clyde Coastguard closure and has been refused. Why?
Do the Agency have a plan B? If yes what is it?.
Events Public meeting on the 14thJune, Gamble Halls, Gourock 6pm till 8pm.Members to lobby Westminster on the 20th June.
Trying to arrange a meeting with Ian Davidson, Shadow Minister for Scotland and Keith Brown Minister of Transport for Scotland.
Industrial action from the 8th June.
PLEASE SUPPORT US TO KEEP OUR COASTGUARD STATION
Write to your local MP asking them to raise the issue
and change the Ministers decision.
Please sign the petition to Save Our Stations. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/4403
Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee report gives coastguard campaigners hope
Posted on by newsroom forargyll.com
The National Coastguard SOS Campaign – fighting all the way against the southern metropolitan plan to reduce radically the number of coastguard stations on UK shores – including Clyde and Forth in Scotland; and Swansea in Wales – has just had a fuel injection.
The Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee issued a report earlier today, making two recommendations to the Welsh Assembly:
- that the Welsh Government carry out a risk assessment that will both identify and seek to mitigate any risks to tourists and others who visit the coast for leisure purposes that might result if the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) proposals go ahead.
- that the Welsh Government continues to challenge the UK Government’s current plans to change the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which will result in Swansea Coastguard Station closing.
The Petitions Committee makes the point that ‘the closure of coastguard stations is not a matter devolved to Wales. However, as the petition does not challenge the decision itself but calls for the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to carry out independent risk assessments, it was deemed admissible.’
Having shown the basis for the committee’s acceptance of the petition, the committee says, on its own account that: ‘The proposed changes to the MCA is a matter for the UK Government but given the potential effects of those changes for people working on and visiting the shores around Wales, an independent risk assessment might go some way to either alleviate some of the fears highlighted in this report or give the Welsh Government further means to challenge the UK Government’s decision on this matter.’
This also underlines the committee’s fundamental acceptance of the argument put forward by the petition.
The Coastguard SOS campaigners feel that the devolved Scottish Government should consider the report from the point of view of Scottish coast users, who will be as vulnerable as those in other areas.
The hope is that the Welsh and Scottish Governments will order independent risk and impact assessments to be carried out in their countries and then apply pressure to central government.
The evidence given to the Petitions Committee by witnesses included concerns that:
- the risk assessments published by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) were unreliable;
- the economies local to the coastguard stations to be closed would suffer, with activity tourists less attracted to coastal areas without the safeguard of an immediate coastguard presence;
- the MCA’s downgrading of the importance of local knowledge is mistaken, with the lead petitioner making the point to the committee:, ‘Coastguards are required under MCA Regulations to undertake an examination on Local Knowledge once every 2 years’.
- there is a risk to maritime security, with the UK Government’s updated National Security Strategy raising the profile of the potential threat to maritime infrastructure.
- this last issue is underlined by the fact that the MCA proposals do not include a Security Impact Assessment.
A serious general issue raised in the report on witness evidence to the committee is confidence in reliable communications.
The proposal to close the number of coastguard stations proposed, leaving large swathes of UK coastline without the traditional local coastguard presence, depends utterly on the assured reliability of first class communications.
Evidence to the committee included worries about ‘a lack of detail in the MCA consultation document regarding the effectiveness of the
communications systems in place that may prevent messages on one rescue operation being transmitted if the aerial is already in use by another station.’
On this matter, the committee says that: ‘It may not be appropriate for the consultation to have gone into such detail, but it remains a concern for the coastguards who will be relying on the system to relay messages in potentially life threatening situations. Because of this, the concerns should be addressed by the MCA at its earliest convenience.’
We feel that issues so central to the success in assured sea safety of the MCA’s proposals absolutely should be detailed in the consultation process.This is not an aspect of the proposed future of maritime safety that can be left to an uninterrogated post-consultation suck-it-and-see.
In our view, the line taken by the petition to return the issue to the domain of concern of the devolved governments is sustainable.
Given that Scotland faces the closure of the coastguard stations protecting the ports at its capital city and its largest city, we would urge the Scottish government to explore the utility of conducting independent risk and impact assessments of the consequences of the loss of the coastguard stations identified to close.
We are bringing this matter to the attention of relevant MSPs in this part of the world who have Clyde coastline in their constituencies, writing to, in alphabetical order, Jackie Baillie MSP, Jamie McGrigor MSP, Mike Mackenzie MSP, Michael Russell MSP.
Note: Here is the report of the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Wales: FINAL Report National Assembly for Wales Petitions Committee
Mike Penning MP & the Consultation on Modernisation…
Mike Penning is the Member of Parliament for the Hemel Hempstead constituency. He was first elected in May 2005. After the May 2010 election he was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport.
In his capacity as Under Secretary of State for Transport, he was tasked with finding savings across the Transport budget by his peers in office. Mr Mike Penning produced the Consultation on Modernisation of Coastguard Services document which outlines savage cuts including slashing the Coastguard workforce by 50%, scrapping the offshore rescue tugs stationed around our shores and only 8 of the UK’s 19 coastguard rescue centres, are to remain, of which only 3 will stay open 24/7.
What’s happening with Clyde Coastguard Centre (MRCC)?
The changes reflected in the consultation offer no place for Clyde Coastguard and it will close with the loss of many skilled, knowledgeable staff and vital emergency service cover for the River Clyde. Under the proposals there will be one single 24/7 Operations Centre based in Aberdeen that will cover mainland Scotland. With local knowledge comes understanding, especially of the location, the conditions and the situation faced by someone needing local/regional assistance. Under these plans a rescue attempt in the rugged coastline off the west coast of Scotland would be handled by someone over 200miles away with no idea of the local place names, landmarks and other land that would aid locating a vessel or person in distress.
What can I do to play my part?
The answer is simple…. Those that plan to introduce these draconian cuts on our UK Coastguard services, which include the Clyde Coastguard Rescue Centre on the River Clyde, have one weakness, one formidable force that’s capable of stopping their plans…..YOU!
We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other pressure groups, task forces’ and committee’s around the UK who are questioning such dangerous and long-term damaging actions that will cost lives, simply to justify the balance sheet for the Government of the Day.
On this website you will find links to petitions. There are a few but the main ones we’ll focus on at the moment are the Keep Clyde Coastguard Opened petition and the UKCGHQ (National petition against UK Coastguard Cuts). Please take 5mins of your time to complete your details in these petitions.
This campaign is not-for-profit and you shall never be asked to contribute any money or donation.
There will never will be any cost associated with this site, the petition or the campaign in return for showing your support. We simply want to ensure our Coastguard Service s capable of continuing to deliver on land or sea, in all weather, 24×7 365 days a year and in your region for many years to come.
This site is spawned from a popular Facebook Group page which sprung up in support of our Coastguard Rescue Centre. You can contribute, view and post items of discussion in this open group athttp://www.facebook.com/groups/saveclydecoastguard.