The Shrinking Service aka Her Majesty’s Coastguard

For the benefit of those of you who are not Coastguards, you’ll be relieved to know that this is quite possibly the last blog that I shall write on the subject unless something new comes to light, it’s an ‘old friend’ but I’m not sure I have anything more to contribute.

You find my previous blogs on the subject here, here and here.

You will probably have noticed from my ranty tweets this week that in the last week of 2012 and the first week of 2013 HM Coastguard and RNLI have been incredibly busy with people in the sea, yet the government seem completely immune to this and seem intent on progressing with their programme of Coastguard Station closures which has already been well-documented.

In the BBC news today was a touching reminder of a tragedy 30 years ago in Blackpool when 3 police officers and a civilian lost their lives in the sea.  I was immensely pleased to see that there will soon be a permanent memorial top these officers, and others, the brainchild of someone in the CPS of all places.

Now I’m not naive enough to believe that more Coastguards might have changed the way things turned out that awful day, but LESS Coastguards might have made things an awful lot worse.  More officers, or members of the public, might have been tempted to go into the water in an attempt to rescue the dog-walker and the 3 officers.

I have been sent an e-mail from someone who is clearly, exceptionally passionate about the events of that day and I will reproduce it more or less verbatim, just altered enough to mask the identity of the sender.  If he/she wishes to make themselves known I’m sure that they will.

I mentioned the Police Officers that drowned in 1983 and my ReTweet of the plans to commemorate the 30 years since.

The article by the free-sheet The Citizen is incorrect as it states 25years!

The tragedy of losing 3 Police officers and a member of the Public resulted in Blackpool Council forming a ‘Public Protection Committee’ who over the years have completely lost sight of their original purpose and are basically not fit for purpose anymore.

Both the Council & the PPC cannot tell anyone how many deaths there have been over any period. They only record deaths/incidents when local Beach Patrol in operation (hours now restricted) but not a full picture (ie out of hours not their responsibility).

Without any statistics, how can they measure the effectiveness of efforts or resources?

I have received NO help or interest from Council or PPC over the matter of local safety or HMCG cuts.

I have had to resort to Freedom of Information requests which have been a complete waste of time & proves how inept they are at Public Safety.

The subject of open access to the sea in the new areas of the Promenade was one of my concerns; older sections have gates in most places, new areas have a simple chain across which dogs & kids can step over or dodge under.

The council reply to this specific concern was that they all have warning signs when the tide is in.

I truly despair that the Council want to see visitor numbers increase Six fold from 10Million to over 60Million but cannot get the basics in safety sorted and have a very hostile attitude to anyone with concerns.

It seems that local Councils, as well as the government are paying little heed to public safety where the sea is concerned.

It’s not that I have anything against the Coastguards, if anything the opposite is true, I think they are wonderful people, who provide a first class service and are getting shafted by the government in the same was as teachers, firemen (forgive the gender biased use of firemen please) police officers, Armed Forces and our very own NHS.  If I have omitted any please don’t take that as a slight on your service, I’m getting old.

First a little bit about HM Coastguard Service courtesy of the Marine and Coastguard Agency website;

Her Majesty’s Coastguard coordinate maritime search and rescue within the UK Search and Rescue region, and have a variety of resources they can task to emergency situations – either people in distress at sea, or emergencies on the coast or shoreline. HM Coastguard also has their own volunteer service, the Coastguard Rescue Service, who are teams of volunteers who can respond to land based emergencies such as cliff and mud rescues or searches for missing people.

19 Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) form a network of command and control centres for responding to reports of maritime and coastal distress. Watch keeping staff in these centres provide a 24 hour service to mariners and coastal users by receiving incoming distress calls and sending resources to their rescue. These calls could come in via the monitoring of emergency radio frequencies, or by 999 calls, as the Coastguard are a recognised 999 emergency service.

I do believe this figure is already out of date.

HM Coastguard can call upon a wide variety of resources  when coordinating Search and Rescue.

Search and Rescue facilities we They? can call on includes:

  • Our own Coastguard Rescue Teams who form a volunteer service of 3500 members in 362 teams strategically placed around the coast.
  • Search and Rescue helicopters under contract to the MCA.
  • Lifeboats operated by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), along with other nominated inshore rescue services.
  • Search and Rescue helicopters operated by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
  • Chemical incident response for vessels at sea
  • Nominated beach lifeguard units
  • Police, Fire and Ambulance Services
  • Mountain and Cave Rescue Teams

History of the Coastguard

In 1809 the Preventative Water Guard was established and can be regarded as the immediate ancestor of HM Coastguard. Its primary objective was to prevent smuggling, but it was also responsible for giving assistance to shipwrecks.

Each Water Guard station was issued with Manby’s Mortar, which was invented by Captain George William Manby. The mortar fired a shot with a line attached from the shore to the wrecked ship and was used for many years.

In 1821 a committee of enquiry recommended that responsibility for the Preventative Water Guard be transferred to the Board of Customs. The Treasury agreed, and in a Minute dated 15 January 1822, directed that the preventative services, which consisted of the Preventative Water Guard, cruisers, and Riding Officers should be placed under the authority of the Board of Customs and in future should be named the Coast Guard.

In 1829 the first Coast Guard instructions were published and dealt with discipline and directions for carrying out preventative duties. They also stipulated that when a wreck took place, the Coast Guard was responsible for taking all possible action to save lives, to take charge of the vessel and to protect property.

Efficiency drives in the 1990s made Her Majesty’s Coastguard a government executive agency, and then in 1998 the Marine Safety Agency and the Coastguard Agency were joined to become the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

So, in the 1990’s HM Government made the Coastguard a government executive agency and, probably, the rot began there, they now come under the Department of Transport and are ‘just’ another government department.

I use the sea, I make no bones about it, I AM biased.

The sea can be beautiful and tranquil, and it can be ugly and hostile.

I have been on a boat on a lovely sunny day when the sea has been calm and I have been on a boat in a Force 10 storm.  I know which I prefer, and on the latter occasion I would have paid ANYTHING to make sure that there were the appropriate and maximum number of Coastguards and Lifeboat crews on duty.  In the end I didn’t need rescuing, just more sickbags over here please, but I will never forget that day and how I felt.

Like every other public service that is being run down and/or privatised, once it’s gone it’s too late to put it back the way it was, it will have changed forever, no-matter what decisions may follow.

So please Dave, I’m asking you to reconsider this lunacy.  The sea is a dangerous place, it can be a hostile environment.  I will quite happily more on my taxes to cover the cost of keeping the Coastguard Stations open, I believe it is about 15 pence per year per UK Taxpayer.  Modernise by all means, but please do not decimate.  Please do not play politics with peoples’ lives.


7 thoughts on “The Shrinking Service aka Her Majesty’s Coastguard

  1. Coastal Joe

    Thanks Alan for re-visiting this subject.

    I truly hope you don’t have to write about this subject again but having researched the closure plan, I believe there will be a follow-up due to a Tragedy that will bear the hallmark of the plan’s flaws.


  2. R.A

    How many people will have to die before this government sees sense and stops these potentially catastrophic MRCC Coastguard Station closures?

    1. retiredandangry Post author

      I sincerely hope that no-one will die due to this uncaring government’s cuts, but I fear that someone will. Can anyone confirm the cost of halting the closures? Is it as little as I think it is?

  3. steve george

    BRISTOWS were responsible for all HM Coastguard SAR helicopters for years until they lost out to CHC and the long serving SEAKINGs were replaced with the AW139s. Over the past few years there have been issues with both MOD and CHC such as the lack of availability of cabs, crew, parts, etc leaving flank stations to cover areas until the unit is back online. We should also note the majority of the pilots and air-crew employed by BRISTOWS are ex-services, mainly RN, and are extremely skilled in what they do. So for me, having all SAR helicopters come under the management of BRISTOWS is nothing but good news.

    Now the question of the loss of the SAR helicopter at Portland and the closure of MRCCs… well that is another matter!

  4. Pingback: What Do YOU Do In The School Holidays? | RetiredAndAngry

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