The Government has slashed the number of 24-hour coastguard stations from 18 to three sparking fears about safety around the UK’s coast.
Shipping Minister Mike Penning said the major reorganisation of the Coastguard would improve services and cut costs.
He added that the current system was “not well placed” to meet the challenge of larger ships, congested seas and the increasing number of people visiting coastal areas for leisure activities.
Trade unions reacted with fury, with the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union saying the Government was “hacking away at life or death services”.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said the Government was “putting saving money before saving lives”. Shadow transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “There are real fears about the ability of such a reduced service to respond to incidents in good time and the loss of local knowledge can only hinder search and rescue operations.”
In addition to the 18 coastguard maritime rescue co-ordination centres there is a small centre on the Thames in London which will be unaffected by the proposals which will now be consulted on in a 14-week exercise.
In the Government’s plan, there will be three 24-hour operational centres – at Aberdeen, in the Southampton/Portsmouth area and at Dover. In addition, there will be five sub-centres open during daylight hours – at Swansea, at Falmouth in Cornwall, at Bridlington (Humber) in Yorkshire and at either Belfast or Liverpool and at either Stornoway or Shetland.
Mr Penning said the Aberdeen and Southampton/Portsmouth centres would be “maritime operations centres capable of managing maritime incidents wherever and whenever they occur and with improved information systems, together with a 24-hour centre at Dover looking over the busy Channel traffic separation scheme”.
The sub-centres would be “fully integrated into the national network around the coast and operating during daylight hours”.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “It’s a shocking indictment on this ConDem Government that plans to cut our coastguards could even be considered, let alone implemented, and shows that they are quite prepared to hack away at life or death services. These proposals must be fought tooth and nail every step of the way.”