Essex: Campaigners hold public meeting to fight coastguard plans
LIVES will be put at risk along the Essex and Suffolk coast if regional stations are replaced by untested technology, campaigners said at a public meeting.
The Thames coastguard station, based at Walton on the Naze, is one of 10 regional headquarters facing the axe as the Government looks to save about �120 million over the next 25 years.
More than a hundred people packed into Walton’s Columbine Centre at a public meeting yesterday to show their support for the Thames Coastguard.
Karen Paradise, watch manager at the station and branch secretary for the public and commercial services union, said the plans could potentially risk lives.
“The detailed local knowledge built up at the coastguard station will be lost and replaced by a computer database,” she said.
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“The new system will rely on the coast rescue service and the RNLI for the local knowledge, but they are volunteers and don’t operate around the clock.
“It could take another five or ten minutes to track down the right information and when you consider that someone can drown in less than three minutes, every second counts.”
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The Walton station is responsible for more than 4,000 square miles of sea along 610 miles of coastline stretching from Southwold in Suffolk to Herne Bay in north Kent.
It operates nine lifeboat stations, 17 lifeboats, 13 coast rescue teams and a rescue helicopter.
Under new plans the regional HQs will be replaced by three 24-hour stations at Aberdeen, Dover and the Southampton/Portsmouth area.
Five sub-centres will be open during daylight hours in Swansea, Falmouth in Cornwall, Humber, either Belfast or Liverpool, and either Stornoway or Shetland.
“The proposals are relying on sophisticated ship identification technology which is available to commercial shipping, but is unlikely to be used by the vast majority of pleasure craft that use this area,” said Ms Paradise.
The Thames Coastguard covers the second busiest leisure area in the country, with around 20,000 leisure vessels a year.
It also serves a significant number of the UK’s busiest ports, including Felixstowe, the largest container port in the country, Harwich, Thamesport and Tilbury.
Numerous offshore wind farms are already operating or under construction in the area as well as hundreds of fishing boats.
“Our seas are becoming ever busier and more congested, with larger ships, more wind farms and increasing leisure use,” said Ms Paradise.
“Between 2005 and 2010 the number of incidents responded to increased by 25%. All of this points to an increasing demand, so how can cutting frontline services be logical?”