WEST DORSET: Campaigners fear that ‘lives will be lost’ as an official date is set for the closure of Portland Coastguard.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has confirmed that operations of Portland Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) will stop on September 15 this year.
The MRCC – currently based along Weymouth harbour – will be transferred to a new National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Fareham, Hampshire from this date.
Staff at the centre co-ordinate emergencies across the West Dorset coastline, including West Bay and Lyme Regis, and while coastguard chiefs say the service will remain unaffected, fishermen remain worried about the change.
Chris Wason, vice president of the South West Inshore Fishermen’s Association (FA), said the issue is ‘concerning’.
He added: “It is definitely something fishermen are worried about.
“At the moment we are well covered, but if it moves further away it could be a big problem.
“Last year my brother was out on his boat and one of his crew members cut off his thumb.
“The helicopter was there within ten minutes and took him to hospital.
“Time is really of the essence in these situations and if it’s going to take longer to respond then obviously that is a problem.”
In a letter, Keith Oliver, head of maritime operations, says, ‘The availability of Coastguard Rescue Teams (CRT), lifeboats and search and rescue helicopters in your areas will be unaffected.’ The transfer of Portland’s operations will go ahead one week after the transfer of Solent Coastguard’s operational transfer to the NMOC.
The Portland helicopter base will remain operational until 2017.
But campaigners say they strongly disagree with the MCA’s claim that the move will create ‘no difference’ in service.
Currently, Portland Coast-guard serves the Dorset and Devon area. From September, the new NMOC will cover Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Dorset and Devon.
Those opposed to the move say lives will be lost as staff will not have knowledge of the local area and will have a heavier workload.
Roger Macpherson, who fought to save the service, said: “It is ridiculous that there will be one base to cover the entire south coast and the busiest shipping channel in the world.
“It does not just affect Weymouth.
“This will affect every seaside town from Kent to Cornwall.
“The risk is also that all the local expertise of the control room we have now will be lost.
“At the moment, someone with a good local knowledge is able to pinpoint very quickly where an area is and the response that’s needed.”
He added: “Lives will be lost, it’s an unfortunate inevitability.”