- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
A local politician is seeking urgent action to help save lives at sea.
Assembly member Joyce Watson AM is lobbying for fast, reliable internet to be delivered to the RNLI’s lifeboat station in St Davids, Pembrokeshire. It is the only UK station without fibre broadband, the charity has revealed.
At the Senedd today, the Labour AM called on the Welsh Government to intervene. She said:
“I recently received correspondence from RNLI which has brought to my attention the lack of broadband at their St Davids Head station.
“Shockingly, it is the only RNLI station in the whole of the UK without fibre broadband.
“The current system can be unreliable, due to poor radio links, particularly in bad weather, when it is needed the most.
“Will the Welsh Government therefore make urgent representations to BT to upgrade the internet connection, as lives really could depend upon it.”
Replying on behalf of the government, Julie James AM said:
“Yes. Joyce Watson makes an excellent point, and it’s a very important point as well. I’m certainly going to be raising the issue with both Openreach and with my officials to see if we can sort out some issues with them as soon as possible.”
Speaking after the Plenary session, Joyce welcomed the minister’s commitment to pursue the matter:
“Over 330 lives have been saved by lifeboats based at St Davids, and many others have been assisted, yet this crucial service is being let down by something which many of us take for granted – fast, effective broadband.
“St Davids is the only RNLI station in the whole of the UK without broadband. A reliable service is vital to getting a lifeboat to those who need it, and seconds count during rescue missions.
“At the same time, the cabinet serving the lifeboat station, BT cabinet 2, serves lots of properties including homes, farms, businesses, campsites, Whitesands Bay, the Farm for City Children and St Davids Youth Hostel – all of which are impacted by slow internet speeds.
“I am very encouraged by the minister’s response and look forward to a speedy resolution.”
Richard Firth, Network & Telecoms Manager at RNLI, is responsible for the provision and support of all network services for the RNLI across England, Eire, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He explained:
“A reliable, fast broadband connection to our lifeboat stations is vital.
“To launch a lifeboat the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) currently dials a central number, enters a code which is translated by their Call Out Alerting and Communications System (COACS) which defines the lifeboat station to be called and the type of resource required. Their central computer systems translate the code into data and send the data out over their network to the lifeboat station where another system receives the message and issues the alerts and sends a paging message out to their crew members who react and head to the station and prepare to launch. Once the paging system receives the message it sends an acknowledgement of “message received and understood” back to the MCA.
“In St Davids they have a highly unreliable link provided by radio but this is very unreliable and prone to fail in bad weather when it’s needed most. Therefore their launch message often fails to get through and they have to revert to using old dial-up modems, a technology from the 1970s. This can increase the time to launch by several minutes and seconds in the water can mean the difference between someone drowning and a successful rescue.
“They are in the process of building a new launch system which will allow the MCA to initiate the launch through a simple mouse click to simplify and speed up the call out process further, but this relies on good, reliable broadband.
“The lack of broadband at St Davids also means crew training is limited to older classroom methods as much of their learning and development systems provide video from the cloud. The crew are unable to use online systems to order parts, update records or follow maintenance or safety procedures using a computer. Instead they have to phone staff at the head office to order anything from lightbulbs to life jackets.”