Confusion over coastguard response to fishing boat grounding off Greenock

navy buildings greenock

Constituents of Labour MP Iain Mackenzie – an elderly couple and their neighbour  – witnessed a fishing vessel run onto the rocks near the Navy Buildings in Greenock on Thursday night  [21st March].

Ironically, the former Clyde Coastguard, closed in the name of the ‘modernisation’ of the coastguard service,  used to be based in these same Navy Buildings.

The grounding of the fishing boat was so close to the shore that these witnesses were able to call to the two men on board.

One of the witnesses then called the Coastguard and was put through to Belfast. She is said to have been on the phone for 45 minutes with no sign of assistance arriving for the distressed boat.

She was instructed to ask her husband and next door neighbour to go down to the water’s edge with a torch, to assist in identifying the rescue area to any coastguard boats.

No Coastguard assistance was witnessed arriving either by sea or air. One of the male witnesses concerned is understood to have taken photographs of what happened that evening.

Mr Mackenzie was told that what looked like another fishing boat came to the stricken ship’s assistance and managed to tow them back into deeper water where, later, the Police boat appeared.

The obvious worry is that 45 minutes on the phone to Belfast looks like no or very slow response to this incident, taking place on the doorstep of the former Clyde Coastguard.

Mr Mackenzie will be asking questions of Belfast and Police to ascertain the facts around this peculiar series of events. He is aware that his constituents were extremely worried both during and after the incident.

The MCA has, unusually, made no reference to this incident on its website.

We have published reports recently, with  no denial from anyone, that Belfast Coastguard, although apparently over staffed, has been experiencing difficulty in achieving even minimum manning of shifts; and particularly, has been struggling to man the phones.

The experience of the MPs constituents in Greenock over this incident would appear to be consistent with these reports.

This situation appears to have developed following the additional burden of responsibility placed on Belfast following the closure of Clyde. Belfast had to assume the obligation for the massive sea area Clyde Coastguard had watched over [from the Mull of Galloway to Ardnamurchan Point and out to Tiree and Coll] – in addition to their existing responsibility for the entire coast of Northern Ireland.

Stornoway Coastguard – which had been slated to close as well but was reprieved – was later asked to take over part of the northern area of the former Clyde Coastguard sea area.

National Coastguard SOS campaign response

Dennis O’Connor, of the vigilant National Coastguard SOS campaign which has stood resolutely against what appears to be a singularly ill-conceived and ill-managed revision of the UK coastguard service, says of this incident: ‘This elderly couple have been forced to experience concern and frustration at the obvious failure of MRCC Belfast to either identify the location or deploy the nearest available rescue resources. This is just unacceptable.

‘Thankfully, it would appear from the report of the incident, that no lives were put in imminent peril but that is most certainly by fortune rather than design.

‘The UK Government and Maritime & Coastguard Agency have repeatedly stated that the transition of coordination responsibilities from Clyde to Belfast has been successful – but this is the another such incident where the rescue coordination from Belfast has resulted in delay. Government departments and agencies involved in this fundamental and disorderly change to the service. They must be held accountable.’

Note: The Navy Buildings at Greenock are visible in the headland beyond the bow of the Argyll Flyer passenger ferry berthed here at Gourock pier.

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31 Responses to Confusion over coastguard response to fishing boat grounding off Greenock

  1. It shouldn’t be difficult to establish from phone records whether the correct number was used to call for assistance; if it’s the case that Belfast did not answer the phone then the MCA have some serious problems.

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    • It would seem that a long conversation was the case – since instructions were given to the woman witness to get her husband and friend to take a torch to the beach to guide assistance that never came.

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      • That’s not much better than not answering the phone TBH. What’s happened to all the volunteer CG watchers? Have they all been disposed of, or are they so demoralised that they’ve left en masse?

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  2. We have received information that Coastguard rescue officers attended the scene within 20 minutes of being paged by Belfast Coastguard. Hopefully further information can be obtained which will help establish a time line for the incident but it leaves the question over why there was a delay in Belfast tasking local rescue resources.

    As a footnote, it should be said that it is not uncommon for HM Coastguard (and other emergency services) to keep the first informant on the line whilst an incident unfolds. This is so that a line of sight report and up to the minute information about any changes in the state of the incident can be relayed immediately by the first informant. Once (in this type of scenario)coast rescue officers and / or RNLI crews arrive they will update the MRCC of the situation.

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  3. Just a few quick thoughts, we are only getting one side of the story here and as we know the press do like to glamourize stories and do tell a few porkies in the process. Comment about tracing the correct number that was used, its 999 and ask for the coastguard, how easy is that, any boater knows this so that comment is so silly its laughable.
    The lifeboats dont always launch if requested to, their aim is to save lives at sea, so was life in danger, apparently not as it was grounded so on these facts the local lifeboat operations manager may not have authorised the launch but we dont have the full facts so its difficult to say.
    As usual a local MP is gonna dig his nose into something he knows nothing about and try and get answers, the coastguard ops room in Belfast is a great team who are professional and very experienced, i dont believe they are at fault in the slightest and there is more to this story than meets the eye, sorry did i mention im an ex-lifeboat crewmember !!

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  4. OK Bob, so without knowing any other facts you say that you believe Belfast CG were not at fault. Are you a spin doctor for the Government?

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  5. Before rushing to make any judgments, perhaps correspondents might consider that in such situations the CG usually puts out a general call on marine Channel 16, over the local transmitter, to see if any other vessels in the area can either provide assistance or, at least, stand by to keep a watch on the stricken vessel and, if necessary, provide a communications link with the CG though the marine VHF. Perhaps the fishing vessel that towed them off the rocks had responded to such a call.

    The story has only shown one side of the incident; perhaps there is more to it than has been published. If, however, the allegations have substance then they should be investigated properly and corrective action take.

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  6. On the other hand…

    No indication of actual times here.

    High tide was at about 7.30. If, in a smallish boat, I ran aground, caused no damage, and knew I’d be lifted off by a rising tide in a matter of minutes, why would I want the Coastguard or lifeboat, or for that matter, the public, involved? Or, with the tide on the turn and beginning to fall at 7.30, it would be slow to fall, extremely slow in the first hour, Thursday night having a total range of only 1.4 metres (in 6.5 hours), about half the Greenock average and as small as it gets here; if I knew that and I had a mate coming along soon to take a tow line, I’d be sorting things out without making it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. Perhaps, in fact, Belfast directed the other boat to the scene; I’ve responded to CG VHF requests to tow small craft on numerous occasions, no lifeboats, no police, no fuss.

    Small boats run aground all the time and, much more often than not, no one is in the slightest danger of suffering anything more than a bit of embarrassment. And, mostly, they sort themselves out without Coastguard or lifeboat involvement. We don’t know the details here. The scenarios I’ve painted are not in the least improbable.

    As I said, these are just alternative hypotheses, we don’t have the full story, and it’s wrong to rush to a conclusion, especially in relation to what MAY have been a very trivial episode.

    BTW, is that hugely expensive, underemployed Strathclyde Polis boat still on the go? What was it – 12 constables, 3 sergeants and an inspector permanently assigned or something like that? I thought it had been axed. I’d rather have Clyde MRCC back any day.

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    • If it wasn’t already disposed of, no doubt it would go in the big amalgamation into Polis Scotlan’ or whatever ridiculous name they’ve been dubbed with. It’s barely in existence and they’re already over budget.

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  7. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. A Coastguard team and lifeboat were called and tasked within 10 minutes of the initial call, and a call put out on VHF ch16. A passing fishing vessel responded to assist and pulled the stricken vessel off the rocks around 20 minutes after the initial 999 call. The lifeboat arrived on scene shortly after and escorted them to port where they were met by the Coastguard team. No delays, no problems, a very smooth and well co-ordinated operation.

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  8. The boat was pulled off the rocks 20 minutes after the initial call was made, so it’s not unreasonable to think that occured before a team could attend the scene. (Bear in mind some teams will take 30+ mins to get to an incident depending on location)

    Perhas Iain Mackenzie might write to the manufacturers of this Womans watch to ask why it is so inaccurate…..

    All this Tit for Tat is pathetic and even worse is the fact that you allow such a story to be published before getting all the facts.

    For one thing, there is NO WAY the woman was asked to illuminate the area for ‘Coastguard Boats’ since there are are only two remaining, both of which are out of service.

    I appreciate the concern for the scottish coastline, but this article reads like some sort of sensationalist trashy tabloid.

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  9. Newsroom understands nothing about the way the CG works, or how normal business at sea is carried on.

    Doesn’t stop the regular appearance of sensationalist so-called ‘reports’ of CG failure though.

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  10. A few details like the time the phone call was made etc would help. The RNLI have a twitter feed @outonashout which says they responded at 19.31hrs, and from Helensburgh.

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  11. Hardly a brilliant piece of journalism. The concern was the response time, the one thing they didn’t ask or publish, was the times. They possibly aren’t investigating, because their is nothing to investigate. Belfast recently were given co-ordinates from a yacht drifting without power that would have put it in the middle of a field in Maybole, Belfast narrowed it down to near Lamlash, where it actually was, because of being told the flash rate of two local light houses. I don’t agree with the closures, but sometimes Belfast needs a bit of credit where it’s due.

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  12. We have had detailed clarification of the facts of this incident from the MCA – and they differ substantially from the reports we were given. Because we were without communications at the time, in the impacts of the recent weather conditions, we had been unable to contact them then.
    The full and accurate account of this incident is now online here: http://forargyll.com/2013/03/no-coastguard-confusion-over-greenock-fishing-boat-grounding/

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    • haw haw haw – will this be Salmond and the SNP’s fault too?

      Perhaps a nonsensical FOI request will tell us all – go on, fire one off, you know you want to?

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    • ‘Because we were without communications at the time, in the impacts of the recent weather conditions, we had been unable to contact them then.’

      Yet you managed to communicate with coastguardSOS, Iain MacKenzie, and this random woman who it turns out, lied…

      I guess at least now we know how much goes into checking stories are accurate before publishing them.

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  13. Andrew. The incident you appear to give an expert opinion on is under investigation by MAIB so you may be a little hasty in offering your opinions on this unless of course you work for them?

    As for the other comments regarding the printing of this story about the boat grounding, what is the editor of ForArgyll meant to do? They have printed information from a credible source. If the information given to Iain McKenzie MP is incorrect in any way then that’s hardly his fault but he has stated his concern based on what he has been told. The accusation by Anonymouse that the woman “lied” undermines the chances of any reasonable discussion and is in danger of detracting from some reasoned explanations or theories put forward by people with knowledge of the Coastguard. The fact is that on the basis of what the MP was told, ForArgyll had every right to report it and the MCA has every right to give their version of events. It for us to form opinion based upon what we read but as the version of events differs between the MCA, MP and the person who reported it we don’t have the right to say that one party or the other is in the wrong until it is investigated properly

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    • mckenzie is not a “credible” source – he’s an idiot who fancies himself as being sentient
      Just because someone stuck a red rosette on him and some other dafties elected him, does not make him credible – it makes him lucky.

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      • I was asked by McKenzie on twitter to apologise for the ‘wouldn’t trust him if he said it was March’ comment someone made, he didn’t even bother to read the comments here despite me pointing him in this direction (comment 14). Going by the chat that ensued, some others stopped at a point even though it was continuing. I have also already said that unless we officially have the time the original 999 was made, the story is not complete. The Helensburgh Lifeboat page quoted they were tasked by Belfast at 19.31, then said 19.33, and were on scene at 19.39. ForArgyll may have the right to report it, but like other news sources, they don’t have the right to either lie, sensationalise or not at least check a few basic sources for facts. I’ve been involved in situations with emergency services, and amazed at what was printed varied from what actually happened. I’ve seen a story of a car back firing and someone falling over in fright turn into a drive by shooting when it went to press. I’m against the closures, I’m also against people launching attacks on people where as of yet, nothing out the ordinary seems to have happened. Being without a radio or ignoring it isn’t uncommon, yachts often ignore warnings put out from the harbour masters in Troon and Ardrossan about ships about to leave. the name of the vessel has been released, find it’s crew, and if they are allowed to talk, ask.

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        • There are also people out there who justify themselves by saying that everything the MCA say is lies. If someone did that to you, you would give up talking to them as well, as trying to get your point across would get frustrating.

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  14. an investigation into what?

    there is no story. (hence no mca press release, imagine if they made a press release every time a boat runs aground, newsroom would only accuse them of making a big fuss over routine work, likely claiming it was some mca PR stunt)

    45 minutes was clearly a lie.

    the chance for reasonable discussion ended when the story was published without having had any discussion with anyone from the mca.

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  15. I mentioned earlier i wasnt a journalistso i dont know what the editor was supposed to do. i do know any decent person would try to corroborate a story they hear, especially when it turns out the source is known to stir.

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  16. This site has form when it comes to printing utter horse about the CG. Surely we all remember the idiotic ‘ Belfast CG was closed for the weekend‘ statement?

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