Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, today welcomed a Transport Select Committee report on Government proposals to change coastguard operations, in which the TSC said that recent changes ‘risk damaging the coastguard.’
In the major reorganization announced last year, 18 local Marine Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) are to close, with their functions transferred to two, national Marine Operations Centres (MOCs).
Despite an outcry over the loss of local knowledge that such changes mean, the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) ploughed on regardless.
The result, announced today by the TSC, is that the vacancy for skilled coastguard staff has doubled since 2010. Describing coastguards as ‘disillusioned and confused’, the Committee chairman, Louise Ellman MP, said that the Government should ensure that its reforms ‘do not undermine safety’ and that it was ‘complacent and lacking in detail’ to suggest that local knowledge was not a requirement.
‘This was entirely predictable,’ says Richard Drax, who joined the campaign to save the Portland MRCC in March 2011.
‘Eighteen months ago, when the proposals were made public, there was an outcry. In particular there was great concern that local expert knowledge, amassed over decades, would be lost. In addition, it was clear that the over reliance on new technology would be dangerous – the so-called ‘rescue by Google’ could never match the existing knowledge base.’
‘When we sent a report to the MCA, it was barely acknowledged. Coastguard officers were prevented from speaking out, although they knew more than anyone else about operations. The withdrawal of Emergency Towing Vehicles and firefighting facilities at sea were highlighted as particular problems. Yet the MCA was determined to ‘modernise,’ no matter what the cost, and blundered on.’
‘Now we have a demoralized coastguard service. What was once one of the finest services in the world, renowned and requested for training by many other nations, is on its knees.’
‘Change for change’s sake is not desirable, particularly where there are lives at stake. We are seeing this again, now, with the plans to close the Portland search and rescue helicopter. The Department for Transport has not thought any of this through properly. They must revise their proposals for both the coastguard service and the Portland helicopter.’