A consultation which runs until March 24th 2011, has been launched, for the public to ‘have their say’ into plans to radically overhaul the UK’s coastguard service.
18 Maritime Rescue Co-ordination centres (MRCCs) around the British coastline will be reduced to just two 24-hour Maritime Operations Centres, one to be based in Scotland, and another in (Portsmouth) Solent area.
Meanwhile, an announcement about the sell-off of the UK’s search and rescue helicopters has been postponed (read more about that below*).
Responding to concerns that a reduction in the number of regional MRCCs will lead to a lack of local knowledge, the proposal states that staff would ‘draw more heavily on the local knowledge provided by local volunteer HM Coastguard Rescue Teams and increased liaison with partner SAR organisations. Overall, 226 jobs will be lost as part of the move, and 25 new staff will help train and manage volunteer rescue teams.
Shipping Minister Mike Penning said: For many the image of the Coastguard (as pictured above) is of a seasoned mariner with powerful binoculars scanning the horizon forever on the look out for something amiss on the open sea.
The reality is very different. Coastguards now come from a variety of backgrounds and are experienced in using computers to assist them in managing the emergency response for critical situations where people’s lives may be at risk.
But much of the computer and radio technology that was cutting edge a few years ago is now outdated, and there is huge potential to improve the service and make it more efficient. This gives us a real opportunity to modernise the service that was last reviewed in the mid-1970s.
So that is why we are launching this consultation.
There are currently 18 round-the-clock Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC), grouped into nine pairs, as well as a smaller London centre covering the Thames that is not staffed 24 hours a day. Replacing these will be the three 24-hour centres and five sub-centres open during daylight hours in Swansea, Falmouth in Cornwall, Humber, either Belfast or Liverpool, and either Stornoway or Shetland. The proposals do not affect the small centre operated by the Coastguard alongside the Port of London Authority on the Thames in London.
The consultation period began on 16th December 2010 and the document states:
Overall, we believe that implementing these proposals will result in a Coastguard service fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century and capable of delivering an improved service to mariners and the general public.
However, before any changes are made, we are conducting a 14-week consultation. This document sets out the background to the proposed changes, the main effects, and provides some questions to assist you when submitting your response. click here to view:
In developing these proposals, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would welcome comments and information about factors that should influence the choice of sites for both Maritime Operations Centres and for sub-centres. Responses will be accepted, either on the electronic form provided, or in writing, up until 5pm on March 24, 2011. The full proposal document, can be downloaded from www.mcga.gov.uk
*As mentioned above: Meanwhile, the government has postponed an announcement about the sell-off of the UK’s search and rescue helicopters.
A “possible issue” had arisen with a foreign consortium’s bid to take over running the fleet from the RAF.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said there would be a statement to the House of Commons “as soon as we are able to provide further information and to set out our plans for proceeding to secure the provision of search and rescue helicopter capability in the future”.
“We regret the further uncertainty that this entails for all those involved in providing the UK’s search and rescue service,” he added. The service is currently provided by the RAF and Royal Navy, plus civilian helicopters through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
For Information MCA Consultation Document sets out proposals to:
Establish two nationally networked Maritime Operations Centres, located at Aberdeen and the Southampton/Portsmouth area, capable of managing maritime incidents wherever and whenever they occur and with improved information systems, together with a 24 hour centre at Dover looking over the busy Channel Traffic Separation Scheme.
Provide for five other sub-centres, fully integrated into the national network around the coast and operating during daylight hours. On the basis of an evaluation of the existing sites and the facilities available at them, it is proposed three of these should be located at Falmouth, Humber and Swansea. We also require sub-centres at either Belfast or Liverpool and either Stornoway or Shetland. The case for selection between these locations is more marginal. We are therefore inviting comments and information about factors that should influence the choice of sites for these two sub-centres.
Provide high quality and demanding jobs for our Coastguards, with the job weight and pay reflecting the increased demands placed upon them in line with Civil Service pay guidelines.
Strengthen the leadership and support provided to our volunteer Coastguards in the Coastguard Rescue Service.
Improve present levels of service to the public while reducing costs.
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