A LOCAL coastguard has spoken out against Government plans to modernise the service – which could see over half the staff at the Bridlington station lose their jobs.
Coastguard watch officer Paul Chapman, who is also the union representative for the Public and Commercial Services Union, has grave concerns that plans to turn the Bridlington station in Limekiln Lane into a daytime-only operation will see 20 people lose their jobs and risk the safety of those at sea.
Under the proposals, Bridlington will become one of six ‘sub-centres’ which will only operate during the day, while two 24/7 nationally networked centres will remain – one in Aberdeen and one in Southampton.
But Mr Chapman believes the reduction of the Bridlington service will put east coast seamen at risk.
He said: “Safety seems to be less important than cost-cutting. This has been recently demonstrated by the loss of the Coastguard tugs, the scrapping of the MIRG teams (fire fighting teams funded by the Maritime Coastal Agency) and the removal of the direction-finding equipment from coastguard stations.
“The plan for modernising the Coastguard service puts a reliance on untested technology. The plan to run only two 24-hour stations contradicts the case for increased resiliance.
“They seem to be making the jump from 18 stations to eight without testing the feasibility of either the technology working or of one operations room being able to cover the whole of the UK.”
Mr Chapman also expressed his concerns that the wealth of valuable local knowledge built up by Bridlington’s coastguard team and those at other regional offices will be wasted if changes to the system mean there is a reliance on techonology instead of people.
He said: “This technology will replace experienced coastguards, 243 jobs will be lost out of 491 people who have built up in-depth local knowledge of their area over the years.”
“The vast majority of incidents occur to inshore vessels – most of which are not equipped with tracking technology – watersports enthusiasts and members of the public on the beaches and cliff tops. Local knowledge is essential to help these people quickly.
“Coastguards manning the 24-hour stations will not be able to gain the necessary local knowledge for the whole of the UK.”
Humber Coastguard co-ordinates all maritime search and rescue activities between the Scottish Border and the River Humber.
This area includes two of the UK’s busiest ports, the Humber and the Tees, other commercial ports, numerous fishing fleets, marinas, beaches and cliff paths, plus a large variety of watersports activities.
In the document outlining planned changes to the coastguard service, Mike Penning, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, says that much of the computer equipment currently used by the coastguard is outdated and that the whole service is in need of modernisation.
Mr Penning said: “We know that change is often difficult and rarely popular.
“Maybe that is why succesive governments and shipping ministers have ducked the question of reform.
“But in doing so, they have held back the coastguard and that is not something we are prepared to see happen any longer.”
Bridlington MP Greg Knight said that he had assurances from the minister that the coastguard service would not be compromised under the proposed changes.
He said: “I have been to see the minister about this because obviously I wanted to be reassured that there would be no frontline cuts and that the service dealing with saving people’s lives would not be a lesser service as a result of the changes.
“I have been given a categorical assurance by the minister that these changes relate basically to people who answer the telephone, there are no cutbacks to the frontline.
“I hope that if there are going to be job losses, they can be dealt with by volunteers and retirement.”
Full details of the proposals can be viewed by visiting www.mcga.gov.uk and the consultation period ends on March 24, after which the changes could come into effect by 2012.