North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark has again exposed serious under-staffing at the coastguard co-ordination centre responsible for safety in waters off the West Coast of Scotland.
Answering a Parliamentary Question tabled by Ms Clark, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond admitted that Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Belfast was staffed at below ‘risk-assessed levels’ on 50 out of 62 shifts in July and on 41 out of 62 shifts in August.
The UK Tory-Lib Dem Government claims any risk caused by low staffing levels can be mitigated by a pairing arrangement between the co-ordination centres at Belfast and Stornoway. However, in answer to a further a question from the local MP, the Transport Minister admitted that both stations have been staffed at below ‘risk-assessed level’ at the same time on 46 occasions so far in 2013.
Katy Clark said, “The summer months can often be the busiest time for coastguard services as this is the time when most boat owners take the opportunity to sail. It is deeply concerning that, despite repeated warnings about staffing levels at Belfast since the closure of MRCC Clyde, the Government has allowed a situation to develop where in July and August the station has been understaffed on nearly three-quarters of shifts.”
The Labour MP added, “It is also alarming that while the Government has maintained that any understaffing at Belfast can be mitigated by the pairing arrangements with Stornoway, we now know that both stations have been staffed at below risk-assessed levels at the same time on around one shift in ten. They are now claiming that further support can be provided by stations at Liverpool, Aberdeen, Holyhead or Shetland, yet these centres will not have local knowledge of the West Coast waters and a number of them have serious understaffing problems of their own.”
Ms Clark acknowledged that changes soon to be implemented could improve the situation, but condemned the UK Government for appearing to be “completely willing to accept this dangerous status quo in the meantime.”