Coastguard denies new centre will risk safety at sea

The Coastguard helicopter in action over Portsmouth.
The Coastguard helicopter in action over Portsmouth.

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COASTGUARD officials have denied claims a new rescue operations centre would compromise safety at sea.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) held a public meeting last night over plans to modernise its rescue co-ordination service.

On Thursday, The News reported the current coastguard station in Lee-on-the-Solent would close.

Instead, a new state-of-the-art Maritime Operations Centre will be built – one of just three in the UK – that will operate 24 hours a day.

The centre will handle calls from around the country.

Steve Mann, union representative for the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘The problem is the lack of local knowledge.

‘We are not convinced what they are proposing will work.

‘The time delay in taking a call and finding where somebody is will be unacceptable.

‘At the moment we can take a 999 call and find out exactly where they are because of local knowledge.

‘This new centre means we will be taking calls from all over the country. If it’s a life-or-death situation, time is everything.’

Tom Elder, the MCA’s regional director, said local knowledge would remain with lifeboat crews and rescue services on the ground.

These will not be affected by the modernisation plans.

Mr Elder said: ‘These proposals will provide a more efficient and more effective method of taking on emergency calls around the coast.

‘In many aspects they will provide an improved service.’

At the meeting, in Gosport’s Thorngate Hall, there were also calls for the MCA to keep its operations in Lee-on-the-Solent.

Councillor John Beavis, of Gosport Borough Council, said: ‘It has total local support. The local people are very supportive of the MCA in Lee-on-the-Solent and we want to keep it there.

‘Gosport Borough Council approved the plans six months ago for a new building in the centre of Lee-on-the-Solent, next to the search and rescue helicopter.

‘It would be the most cost-effective option for them.’

Mr Elder said no decision has been made about where the new centre will be based.