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.