[Updated below: 28th January] Rescue Coordination Centre Manager, Richard Newell, of Belfast Coastguard, resigned from his post around two weeks ago.
Clyde Coastguard was closed for good on 18th December 2012, with the bulk of its massive sea area transferring to the responsibility of Belfast Coastguard/ Stornoway Coastguard was also involved in assuming responsibility for part of Clyde’s northern sector.
The maritime world was concerned about the consequences of the new loading on the Belfast station, already responsible for the entire coastline of Northern Ireland.
At the time of these major changes to the Coastguard service Mr Newell had made it known locally that if he considered the future was becoming dangerous, then he would go.
This may not, of course, be why he has now done so – in under a month after the full formal handover of much of the former Clyde sea area to Belfast; but it is the inference and has to be a matter of concern.
We have asked the MCA to confirm that Mr Newell has resigned – although it is public knowledge that this is the case and we have had it confirmed by three independent sources.
This is another example of the rapid loss of experienced staff suffered by the coastguard service, following the ill-managed rush into a ‘modernisation’ programme driven by cost cutting.
The heart of the new system is a national coordination centre at Fareham in Hampshire, planned to come into use in the coordination of the rare but serious major maritime incidents anywhere in UK waters.
Fareham is planned to be indulgently staffed [around 96], at a level beyond decipherable need; especially in a new system whose strength is claimed to be the ease of sharing workloads and responsibilities between stations wherever they are in the UK.
There are continuing concerns that this core element of the new system will not be installed, tested and in operation until well after its due date.
There was a hilarious recent incident where Shipping Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, called a press photocall to picture himself at the Fareham maritime incident coordination centre – and they weren’t allowed inside the building. While the event was fully comical, again the inference about the unreadiness of the building was clear.
The lack of progress at Fareham leaves the overall service with the premature closure of coastguard stations, ongoing closures on the slipway, significantly less capable than before and with the remaining stations under considerable stress.
The robustness of the planned new service is one issue and will only be known when it is tested in use for the first time – which is some years away.
An immediate issue is the competence of the management of the transition from the former to the planned new system – the results of which are here, now, visible and damaging, not least of which is the constant leaching away of experienced senior staff.
Update: 28th January: The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has confirmed that Richard Newell has resigned and that he has since assured the agency that he has not and never will make any connection between his decision to resign and the Future Coastguard project.
Note 1 The Ministry of Defence has now put on the market the old naval buildings at Greenock which housed Clyde Coastguard.
Note 2: Nature appears to be taking a hand in the current scenario, causing the evacuation of a small local coastguard station at Scrabster in Caithness, which is threatening to tumble off a cliff. [Reported here by the John O' Groats Journal ]