Of the rest, three to be 24 hour, 5 to close at night

Ten coastguard stations are to close after the Government
announced plans to radically overhaul the UK’s coastguard service. Under
proposals announced by Transport Minister Mike Penning, the 18 Maritime Rescue
Co-ordination centres (MRCCs) around the British coastline will be reduced to
just two 24-hour Maritime Operations Centres, one to be based at Aberdeen, and
another in the Solent area. In addition, there will be six sub-centres. One, in
Dover, will be open around the clock to manage the busy Dover TSS, while the
rest will open only during daylight hours. These are set to be based at
Falmouth, Swansea, Humber, either Belfast or Liverpool and either Stornaway or
Shetland. A small centre on the Thames will also remain open.

 Mr Penning said: ‘much of the computer and radio technology
that was cutting edge a few years ago is now outdated, and there is huge
potential to improve the service, last reviewed in the mid 1970s, and make it
more efficient.’

 Responding to concerns that a reduction in the number of regional
MRCCs will lead to a lack of local knowledge and ‘call centre’ mentality, the
proposal said that staff would ‘draw more heavily on the local knowledge
provided by local volunteer HM Coastguard Rescue Teams and increased liaison
with partner SAR organisations.’ To support this, 25 new staff will help train
and manage the volunteer rescue teams. Overall, 226 jobs will be lost as part
of the move, but the report stresses that posts under the new structure will be
both better paid and have an improved career structure.

 The RNLI’s Isla Reynolds told PBO: ‘The reduction in Maritime
Rescue Coordination Centres is significant and we are looking closely at the
way civil maritime search and rescue coordination will now operate in the UK.
We have been reassured by the MCA that the standard of search and rescue
coordination will not reduce.’

 The proposals are subject to a 14-week consultation period,
and responses will be accepted up until 5pm on March 24, 2011. Response forms,
as well as the full proposal document, can be downloaded from www.mcga.gov.uk

Meanwhile the government had postponed an announcement about
the sell-off of the UK’s search and rescue helicopter capabilities.

It said a “possible issue” had arisen with a
foreign consortium’s bid to take over running the fleet from the RAF, Royal
Navy and MCA. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said there would be a
statement to the House of Commons “as soon as we are able to provide
further information and to set out our plans for proceeding to secure the
provision of search and rescue helicopter capability in the future”.

A French-American consortium was the preferred bidder to
take over running the operation as part of a contract worth £6bn over 25 years.