Coastguard campaigners have welcomed the publishing of a report by the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee on the future of HM Coastguard in Scotland.
The Committee of MPs say that the loss of local knowledge in Scottish Coastguard closures poses risks to the quality of rescue services and have demanded that the Government must ensure the service is maintained at its current high standard.
Speaking on behalf of the National Coastguard SOS Campaign Group, Dennis O’Connor says: ‘The level of concern from Members of Parliament was evident when the Committee questioned the CEO of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the UK Shipping Minister; Stephen Hammond MP.
‘During that meeting, neither was able to reassure the Committee that the Government’s station closure plan is either credible or safe.
‘It is clear from the Committee’s comments on the report that the safety of coast users is being put at risk.’
The Scottish Affairs Committee says it is very worried about the decision to close two of Scotland’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres and says that 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.
The Committee remains ‘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 and the extensive Firth of Clyde waterway system a major sailing grounds, without a Coastguard station.
Campaigners point out that the MCA has done nothing to allay the concerns of the public despite their repeated references to the fact that there have been two public consultations.
Dennis O’Connor says: ‘The way that the closure programme has been handled has been shambolic.
‘The MCA and Department for Transport appear to have paid scant regard to the concerns of Coastguard officers and this remains of deep concern to us.’
The Government has already closed Forth Coastguard in direct contradiction to assurances given by the former Shipping Minister; Mike Penning MP, that no stations would close until the new centralised call centre at Fareham in Hampshire had been rigorously tested for robustness.
This call centre is not due to be operational before 2014 at the earliest and campaigners are concerned that the close of Clyde Coastguard is due to take place in less than five weeks time.
The Transport Select Committee [TSC] are also due to publish its findings fro am second inquiry into Coastguard closures and Mr O’Connor says: It is very likely that this report will be every bit as damning as the first one was – but at the very least, it will serve to underline the concerns raised today by Scottish MP’s.
‘The sooner the TSC report is published the better as far as we are concerned. Staff at Clyde Coastguard are staring down the barrel of a gun and are being put under intolerable pressure whilst maintaining their vigilance and professionalism under the most extreme of circumstances’.
Even a suspension of the closure plan would be very welcome right now by those officers and by the concerned public.