End of an era for Great Yarmouth coastguards

PUBLISHED: 09:42 28 February 2013 | UPDATED: 15:07 28 February 2013

Picture of Great Yarmouth HM Coastguard HQ in Havenbridge House, Great Yarmouth. They are now starting use a new location technology system AIS in conjuction with Caister Lifeboat.
Photo: Angela Sharpe
Copy: Stephen Pullinger
For: EDP
EDP pics © 2006
(01603) 772434

Picture of Great Yarmouth HM Coastguard HQ in Havenbridge House, Great Yarmouth. They are now starting use a new location technology system AIS in conjuction with Caister Lifeboat. Photo: Angela Sharpe Copy: Stephen Pullinger For: EDP EDP pics © 2006 (01603) 772434

Archant © 2006

A blueprint for a “21st-century coastguard” was signed off by the government in 2011, with eight of the UK’s 18 control centres to close.

Background to the changes

The following coastguard stations will shut:

• Brixham

• Clyde (closed December 2012)

• Forth (September 2012)

• Great Yarmouth (by May 1, 2013)

• Liverpool

• Portland

• Swansea

• Thames

The following coastguard stations will be retained:

• Aberdeen

• Belfast

• Falmouth

• Holyhead

• Humber

• London

• Milford Haven

• Shetland

• Stornoway

A new Maritime Operations Centre will also be created in Fareham

Speaking in 2011, former shipping minister Mike Penning said: “How coastguard rescues are coordinated has changed little over the past 40 years. Currently, operations are coordinated from 18 dispersed centres with no network of national integration. This means that there is very limited resilience in the event of high demand or technical problems and it is impossible to spread the workload evenly across the system, leaving staff in one centre struggling to cope with call volumes while workloads in another may be low.

“The plans confirmed today will create a resilient and nationally networked system of Coastguard coordination centres as well as giving coastguards more opportunity to develop and apply their skills, offering increased responsibility, a recognised career path and the remuneration to reflect this.”

Previously the call-handling centres operated in nine pairs covering overlapping geographical areas, but a “modernisation” programme will see fewer centres with more staff in each.

Former shipping minister Mike Penning – who gave the move the green light – said although call handling would move further away from some incidents, the new structure would offer a “resilient and fully networked national rescue coordination service”.

Forth, in Scotland, became the first station to close last September, followed by Clyde in December, and Great Yarmouth will become the third to shut by May 1.

Yarmouth’s coastguard station, based on the fourth floor of Havenbridge House in North Quay, was formerly staffed by 25 coastguard officers.

This has been reduced to 16, and the centre’s 24-hour cover will be reduced to 8am to 8pm daytime cover from Monday as it prepares for closure.

Night-time cover will be taken over by the station at Humber – one of 10 centres to be kept in the “modernisation” programme – and the Thames station at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, though this is also set to close by March 31, 2015.

Yarmouth’s coastguard officers currently handle calls from Haile Sand Fort, Lincolnshire, to Southwold.

But bosses say the Humber control centre can safely take these over as it already has the “technical links, operational familiarity and training”, and has been operationally paired with Yarmouth for several years. Chief coastguard Peter Dymond said: “From March 4, Humber MRCC will take over night-time operations for Great Yarmouth MRCC.

“Two watch keepers will be transferred from Yarmouth to Humber to ensure we have sufficient staff on duty at night to meet any additional demands.

“Safety is our top priority and I am confident that the same high quality search-and-rescue service will be maintained throughout.”

He added that there would be no reduction in front-line rescue resources, with the availability of lifeboats, rescue helicopters, coastguard rescue teams and other rescue facilities in the area unaffected.

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said he had never opposed the “modernisation” as it was put forward by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) – the people with expertise in the service.

“It’s a real shame that we’re losing those jobs, though they have been offered relocation,” he added.

“Yarmouth coastguard has been there for a long time but it’s the MCA that have made the recommendation and when they’re saying this is what we need, it’s very difficult for any of us to say ‘you the coastguard have got this wrong’.”

He said there was a “really good team” at Winterton, among other local coastguard and coast watch teams.

“It just means they will be talking to a different control centre,” added Mr Lewis. “The actual front-line response gets better. They’re confident we’ve got very safe waters and we will be keeping a close eye on that especially over the summer months, when we’ve got the tourist season.”

For a look back on the history of Yarmouth coastguard – which has had a presence in the town since 1809 and worked through disasters from the Bristow’s Wessex helicopter crash to the sinking of the oil tanker Eleni V-see tomorrow’s EDP.

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