End of an era as Thames Coastguard station in Walton closes down today
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Coastguard rescue operations along the Essex and Suffolk coastline will no longer be co-ordinated locally from this afternoon.
From 4pm the Thames Coastguard station at Walton-on-the-Naze will close down, with all operations transferred to a national centre in Fareham on the south coast.
The move, first announced four years ago, is part of a modernisation programme from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) that it says will make the service more efficient.
The Thames station is the last of six to close, with the overall programme completed by December.
Although the closure will mark the end of an era, the station in East Terrace will not shut down completely.
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Four staff will remain as the centre becomes a coastal hub, managing the volunteer coastguard teams which operate along the Essex and Suffolk coast.
Archie Turnbull, rescue co-ordination centre manager and a coastguard for 20 years, said: “This will give us a more resilient service, and the mariner should notice no difference. The service is not going to diminish, it will still be there for people whether they are commercial, leisure or day-trippers.
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“They have already closed a number of stations, and undoubtedly there were teething problems, but they have been ironed out now. It has been a smooth process, with no major hiccups.
“I have been here for seven years and it will be a sad day, and emotional for myself and the staff, when we close.”
The MCA has dismissed fears that a lack of local knowledge could hamper rescue efforts in the region, as both staff from Fareham have been on secondment at Thames over the past two months to learn about the area, and many staff from the Walton station are transferring to the new centre.
No compulsory redundancies have taken place at all during the modernisation programme, with two coastguards from Thames switching to managing rescue teams, six transferring to other operations centres, and the rest retiring or taking voluntary redundancy.
Although day-to-day operations will be handled at Fareham, the new system allows for rescues to be co-ordinated at any station in the network if another is busy.
There will be no change to the frontline rescue service, either from the coastguard or the RNLI, or contact numbers though from July 1 Sea King helicopters from Wattisham will no longer be involved in rescues as the contract changes to a civilian provider with a regional helicopter based in Kent.
The modernisation programme will save the MCA around £5million each year, but it insists the changes are not driven by cost-cutting.