More revelations today serve to show just how unthought is the entire Department for Transport / MCA proposal to turn the national coastguard service into a cut-and-shut operation – with all of the dangers of a wonky chassis.
Emergency incident reports: Ballycastle to Belfast via Clyde
For topographical reasons, with cliffs and headlands, the north east corner of Ireland cannot communicate directly with Belfast Coastguard.
We’re talking about a stretch of coastline from the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast to Cushendall on the east. These are notoriously dangerous waters on a wrecking coast, open to the long fetch of the exposed Atlantic.
This coastline includes the unsheltered coasts of Rathlin Island, in the Atlantic; and the Causeway coast where some of the Spanish Armada ships, like the Girona, came to a dreadful end on the rocks. It has strong overfalls off its series of dramatic headlands.
It is at the southern end of the traffic separation zone in the North Channel, one of the most difficult passages for smaller boats or for large ones suffering loss of engine power. Thus runs between Machrihanish Light on the south west of the Mull of Kintyre and Tor Head on the Northern Irish coast, then bending away to the west around the eastern coast of Rathlin Island and into the open Atlantic.
In the case of any maritime incident requiring urgent reporting, people living on this coastline cannot alert Belfast coastguard to the emergency. Their only route is to contact – guess where? – Clyde Coastguard, who then report to Belfast.
So what happens when Clyde Coastguard is shut down, as it is planned to be by the end of this year ?
Someone out walking on Tor Head sees a westbound cargo ship entering the North Channel separation zone and suffer what seems to be a loss of power, starting to drift eastwards in a strong westerly wind, across the path of a bulk carrier coming south in her correct lane through the zone.
Clyde Coastgard is gone. They can’t get through to Belfast Coastguard. They’re on foot in a remote place with a long walk to to a landline.
And, by the way, ‘Belfast’ coastguard is not, as one would imagine, situated at Belfast harbour – but at Bangor on the County Down coast, on the southern shore of the entrance to Belfast Lough.
This matters in the case of the accuracy of the geographical picture in the mind of the underinformed personnel at a remote call centre or distant retained coastguard station responsible for the coordination of an ongoing incident.