IT’S the ‘best job in British policing,’ according to Sergeant Tony Birr from Hampshire police’s Marine Unit – providing you like boats.
Just 12 months ago the idea that the force would boast a four-strong fleet of new vessels to police our waters seemed like a pipe dream.
But now Hampshire has the best marine policing capability in the country thanks to a £1.5m investment.
Cash for the four new vessels – a 12m catamaran Commander, patrol launch Preventer and two Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBS) – Protector and Pursuer – has come from a £500,000 government grant, with the force footing the remainder of the bill.
The spend comes at a time when the force is battling to save £54m by April 2015 due to government spending cuts.
But the fleet is expected to last 15 to 20 years, and police say the investment is a necessary one.
And Sergeant Birr was part of a three-strong team involved in the specifications for the new fleet: ‘Twelve months ago there was no money, there was no design – there was nothing,’ he says. ‘The old boats were past their sell-by-date. They were becoming uneconomical to run.’
But now all that has changed with the new fleet, which has recently been officially launched.
Some of the £1.5m will be recouped through the sale of the unit’s three 12-year-old Mitchell 31 launches, which are being decommissioned.
A 7.5m RIB which requires a costly engine replacement was sold to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier this year.
Mariner V is now used by police in Kenya for counter-piracy operations.
Meanwhile the new fleet is top-notch.
The Catamaran Commander and Preventer boast the latest technology, with the catamaran being used to conduct patrols, act as a command base for the unit and be on-hand for specialist operations such as boarding vessels at sea.
Preventer is an all-weather patrol launch, and both vessels are equipped with technology enabling officers to get onto the force computer network at sea, to check people’s details and background and send and receive vital information on investigations securely.
Sergeant Birr says: ‘I have had figures quoted to me that 25,000 jobs in this area come directly from the maritime community and a total of 50,000 indirectly, just in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
‘It is a £40bn a year industry as a nation and is the biggest maritime economy in Europe.
‘The security of these vessels is paramount.’
The fleet and its complement of 10 officers will be deployed on call-outs ranging from counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations to missing persons reports, marine fatalities, human trafficking, fisheries protection and education.
They work closely with agencies including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, UK Border Agency, RNLI, councils, fire service, the public and the Royal Navy.
The vessels are crewed from 7am to 9pm daily but can respond to call-outs 24 hours a day.
The unit has supported two major investigations this summer – the probe into the murder of 30-year-old David Guy, whose dismembered torso was discovered on Southsea beach in July, and the murder of Delia Hughes, 85, whose body was found at her Atlantic Close flat in the Ocean Village development in Southampton in August.
Officers recently stopped a suspect from fishing in an area sensitive to environmental issues off the Isle of Wight in an investigation which is still ongoing.
Sergeant Birr adds: ‘When 1.2 tonnes of drugs was seized in Southampton last year it was us that seized the boat at the request of the UK Border Agency.
‘We came alongside the vessel, put ropes on it and towed it away before people could get to it for further detailed examination.
‘Another operation was just off the Isle of Wight where drugs were being hidden in fishing pots.
‘It was our unit that went to the fishing pots and lifted the drugs up, supporting the criminal investigation,’
The 11 watertight holdalls of high purity cocaine, were retrieved in May 2010. The £53m of class A drugs had been deposited from container shop MSC Oriane. When the Marine Unit seized the holdalls they had been tied along a rope to resemble submerged lobster pots.
The probe, led by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and UK Border Agency working with police, led to five men last year being jailed for a total of 104 years.
Jonathan Beere, then 42, of Mayfield Road, Ryde, Jamie Green, then 43, of Newport Road, Yarmouth and Zoran Dresic, then 36, of Croatia, each received 24-year prison sentences.
Daniel Payne, then 36, of Albert Road, East Cowes, was jailed for 18 years and Scott Birtwhistle, then 20, of Sparshot Road, Selsey, Chichester, received a 14-year jail sentence.
A FLEET THE FORCE CAN BE PROUD OF
The new £1.5m fleet boasts four vessels - the 12m catamaran Commander, patrol launch Preventer and two Rigid Inflatable boats (RIBS) – Protector and Pursuer.
Commander, a 12m catamaran, is built by South Boats of Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
It boasts thermal imaging, CCTV, twin radar, two types of searchlight - white and UV, and two types of sonar - one for searching the sea bed.
The vessel has a 3.5m RIB and can be beached.
Data recorded from the vessel could be used as evidence in court.
A fly bridge 4.3m above sea level offers better visibility.
Officers can log in to force computer systems from the catamaran thanks to top-notch technology onboard.
There is also satellite TV for monitoring live news feeds, a kitchen, sleeping and washing facilities and rations.
Commander can travel at speeds of up to 25 knots.
It will be used for specialist operations and act as a command base for the Marine Unit.
Patrol launch Preventer is an 11m Lochin all-weather patrol boat launch built by Goodchild Marine of Great Yarmouth.
Features include a raised exterior helm, CCTV, hydraulic body recovery system, dual radar and the ability to search above and underwater.
The technology and facilities onboard are equal to that of Commander, apart from the thermal imaging.
It will be used as a day-to-day patrol boat.
Protector and Pursuer are 7.9m Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) designed and built by Ribcraft in Yeovil, Somerset.
They are fitted with twin outboard 200hp engines and can reach speeds of over 40mph.
The seating configuration on Protector is designed to be able to transport a firearms or support safety team safety and at a speed for immediate deployment.
Meanwhile Pursuer can carry equipment and up to four passengers and has an open work area.
Suspension seats on both vessels are designed to absorb the impact of working in rough seas for prolonged periods.
Electronics for the new fleet are provided by Hampshire firm Simrad.