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Hm Coastguard

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a further statement about the work of Her Majesty's Coastguard.

Over the past 10 years, the operations of HM Coastguard have been progressively adapted to reflect rapidly advancing technology in radio and telecommunications, together with the greatly strengthened search and rescue helicopter services which are now available. Visual watch from the coast is now generally confined to places and times which present a higher than average risk of an accident, but a radio listening watch is maintained throughout the year covering all waters around the coasts of the United Kingdom out to 40 miles to seaward. The VHF radio sites are being progressively fitted with direction finding equipment which enables the location of a vessel in distress to be determined quickly. In addition, coastguard stations are being equipped with the MF digital selective calling system to operate with the equipment to be carried on vessels under the International Maritime Organisation's global maritime distress and safety system. The Coastguard also has links with the world wide satellite maritime communication system, and the international satellite beacon detection system.When the coastguard modernisation plan was started in 1978, the radio listening watch was managed from 28 operations centres which between them controlled about 70 sites. With greater experience of the new system of operations, it has proved possible to control a larger number of aerials from a smaller number of operations centres, and there are at present 24 such centres with aerials at 84 sites. I have now decided that, in the light of technical developments, these operations can be further refined with no detriment to safety, and that it will be possible to control the same number of aerials from 21 centres. I have therefore decided that the maritime rescue sub-centres at Hartland Point, Moray (Peterhead), and at Ramsey on the Isle of Man should be closed in March of next year, after which the responsibility for the aerials which they presently use will be transferred to neighbouring centres. At Peterhead and Hartland Point, a coastguard presence will be maintained by the sector officer and the management of the local auxiliary companies will be unaffected.In the case of the Isle of Man, the Government have also proposed that responsibility for search and rescue on the coast of the Island should be transferred to the Manx authorities, but radio listening watch and responsibility for search and rescue co-ordination in the waters around the island will be maintained by coastguard stations on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. The special fishermen's open line currently operated from the Moray sub-centre will be transferred to the co-ordination centre nearby at Aberdeen.I am consulting the National Union of Civil and Public Servants about the staffing implications of these changes: I do not anticipate that redundancies among regular coastguard staff will arise.I am satisfied that changes will in no way impede the ability of Her Majesty's Coastguard to respond to calls from vessels in distress and to co-ordinate search and rescue operations if they are required.