- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Wednesday 19th January 2011
Plans that could lead to the “savaging” of the coastguard service have been slammed by a former search and rescue team member.
As the fight to keep Milford Haven open continues during a consultation period, Dennis O’Connor, who has firsthand experience of rescues, has spoken out.
Mr O’Connor, from Neyland, a volunteer search and rescue and cliff rescue team member at Llansteffan (south Pembrokeshire sector) for three years, is backing a petition and Twitter campaign to raise awareness of the emergency service’s importance.
“I’m concerned that the loss of Milford Haven Coastguard station will be devastating to the county.
“Swansea is earmarked to be operational in daylight hours only, that means anything off our coast that happens after, theoretically, 5pm, will then be dealt with by another coastguard from outside of our area.
“Living here you know there are lots of place names that we struggle with and I think it will be a massive undertaking for any member of a coastguard centre not in south west Wales to organise a successful rescue operation within limited time restraints and that will put lives at risk.
“I don’t want to do a disservice to those that get the calls but undoubtedly, fatalities will rise.”
Mr O’Connor highlighted the 3,500 volunteers underpinning the coastguard service and although the people on the ground will continue doing the same job he is worried about what information will be received. He asked:
“Will it be clear, accurate information given in a timely manner?”
“The fact is it’s going to leave our coastlines severely at risk and I do not understand how they can justify it – they are absolutely savaging a vital emergency service,” said Mr O’Connor.
The Government consultation on the future of coastguard provision continues until March 24th and protests have already been organised in areas such as Liverpool.
Mr O’Connor hopes similar action will be taken in Pembrokeshire.
“I would like to see people marching, a visible protest to help raise awareness “I would appeal to the people of Pembrokeshire to get behind the petition, to sign it online at www.petitiononline.com/ukcghq, and locally to come out and support the coastguard service – to bang the drum by using email, or by using Facebook, or Twitter.
“Otherwise, use any possible means to give every coastguard officer every hope that any decision made for the future will be the right ones and well thought through.”
The fight to save the coastguard campaign can be found on Twitter @Coastguard_SOS and Save Our UK Coastguard Centres on Facebook.
Plaid Cymru Assembly candidate and county councillor Rhys Sinnett also believes a strong community campaign is needed.
“I will be putting a Notice of Motion to Pembrokeshire County Council so that we can get the backing of locally elected county councillors and I urge all town and community councils to make their voice heard,” he said.
Taking a stand
Labour regional Assembly Member Joyce Watson raised concerns about coastguard proposals at the Senedd last week.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said that he shared Mrs Watson’s concerns and was preparing a response to the Secretary of State for Transport.
The plans would leave Swansea as the only coastguard control centre in Wales, covering the whole Welsh coast, north-west England and the western coast of Scotland.
“That is a huge area to cover; it includes Milford Haven but it also includes some other busy ports.
“The worry has to be that these proposals will cause a delay in callout times and that more people will be put in danger,” said Mr Jones.
He also raised concerns about the loss of local knowledge.
Mrs Watson met with Carl Evans, rescue and co-ordination manager at the Milford Haven centre last week.
Figures show that in the last five years the team has co-ordinated more than 3,500 emergency callouts and taken part in nearly 4,500 operations.
Plaid Cymru AM Nerys Evans added: “It is unacceptable that any incidents off the coast of Wales during the night would be dealt with from Southampton. This vital information, which could only come from detailed local knowledge, will be lost.”
Other Assembly Members and candidates are against plans to reorganise the service.
Regional AM Alun Davies said: “The decision to close the coastguard station at Milford Haven, Holyhead and a downgrading of the Mumbles to a daylight service beggars belief.
“It is hugely important that these services are maintained so that the safest service can be provided – not only because there are issues surrounding the geography of our coastline but also issues over the pronunciation of Welsh place names.”
Labour candidate for south Pembrokeshire, Christine Gwyther, also visited the Milford Haven station and said the figures “speak for themselves.”
“Over the last few years HM Coastguard at Milford Haven have co-ordinated literally thousands of emergency callouts and operation, and they know our beautiful and sometimes dangerous coastline very well.
“To remove that service to somewhere in England is a risk we really cannot afford to take,” she said.
Last week Pembroke Dock Town Council unanimously supported Ms Gwyther’s proposal that the “council register our concern over plans to close HM Coastguard operations centre at Milford Haven, which we believe would result in the loss of important local knowledge.
“We furthermore support local efforts to widen the consultation to explore alternative options and call upon HM Coastguard to hold a public meeting to discuss the proposals and to hear local views first hand.”
What do you think?
What do you think about moves to close Milford Haven Coastguard centre? Leave your comments below.