Oil spill fears if coastguard axed

PRECIOUS wildlife habitats could be threatened by a Gulf of Mexico-style oil spill disaster if an Essex coastguard station is axed.

That is the claim of Essex MEP Richard Howitt whose online petition against closing the station at Walton-on-the-Naze has attracted more than 13,700 signatures.

The station is one of 10 regional headquarters facing the axe as the Government looks to save about �120million over the next 25 years.

Last month more than a hundred people packed into Walton’s Columbine Centre to show their support for the coastguard station. Mr Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, said: “I am appalled by the complacency of the Government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency at the recent public meeting dismissing local concerns that safety will be jeopardised.

“On one of the busiest shipping routes in the North Sea, it is not simply lives that would be put at risk, but precious wildlife sites that the Government is under an EU duty to protect.

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“One major incident could devastate the Essex coastline in just the same way as the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

“Like all of the other emergency services, speed of response and local knowledge are vital to dealing with any accident, and that’s why the Walton-on-the-Naze Coastguard Centre has to stay.”

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A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “We welcome all contributions to the debate. This is a genuine consultation.”

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.

Under new plans the regional HQs will be replaced by three 24-hour stations at Aberdeen, Dover and in 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 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, Harwich, Thamesport and Tilbury.

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