December 13 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
The crew of an independent lifeboat says it should have been called to a diving incident off the Norfolk coast in which a man died - and that they would have been there 30 minutes before anyone else.
The Humber coastguard called on Great Yarmouth and Gorleston’s RNLI lifeboat and an RAF search and rescue helicopter from Wattisham on Friday after receiving a call for help from a Raider V dive boat 17 miles off the Lowestoft coast.
It is understood that diver Christopher Vanstone, from Brixton, London, had gone down about 17 metres when he became unwell and had to make an emergency ascent.
When he returned to the surface Mr Vanstone, 49, was given emergency CPR and taken to the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston but, despite efforts, was pronounced dead.
Paul Garrod, chairman of the Caister Volunteer Rescue Service, has today voiced serious concern that the independent Caister-on-Sea station was not called to the emergency.
“It was a Mayday call,” said Mr Garrod.
“I’m not saying Gorleston lifeboat shouldn’t have got the call, but I want to know why were we not called.
“We would have been there 20 or 30 minutes before anyone else, and possibly before the helicopter.
“Of course, we don’t know if we could have saved that man’s life but it’s a question that has to be asked if only to make sure it does not happen again.”
Caister only became aware of the dive boat’s call for help when a crew member saw the Gorleston boat heading out to sea. Mr Garrod said all available boats should have received the shout-out.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which runs the HM Humber coastguard station, received the initial call at 1.20pm and said help was at the scene by 2pm. The dive boat returned to Lowestoft docks at 6.30pm.
Today, an MCA spokesman said the decision to call the RAF helicopter and the Gorleston RNLI lifeboat was made as they were considered the most appropriate at the time.
A spokesman said: “The incident occurred 17 miles offshore and the decision was made to send the RAF search and rescue helicopter from Wattisham as this was the quickest way to get the casualty to safety.
“The Gorleston RNLI all-weather lifeboat was also requested to launch to assist with the transportation of the dive buddy, particularly in view of the distance offshore.
“When a distress call is received at a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), the search and rescue mission coordinator will make decisions as to which rescue resource is the most appropriate to send. This takes into account many factors, including distance to the incident, time taken for the resource to arrive on scene, weather conditions, and the capability of the resource.”
Mr Garrod, however, said it was a calm day at sea and there was no reason why the Caister lifeboat could not have been at least called.
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, said the real issue is whether the HM coastguard is using Norfolk’s independent lifeboats and not favouring RNLI.
“I have written to the MCA to raise those concerns and I think Caister is quite right to voice the issue.
“The incident has highlighted the issue of whether Caister, and the other independents, are being utilised by the coastguard. When former transport and shipping minster Mike Penning visited, we took him out on the Caister boat and he made a pledge to ensure MCA treats independent stations the same as it treats RNLI ones.
“In this instance, it seems to me, Caister clearly wasn’t used in the way they are using the RNLI.
“It’s not about whether they called Gorleston, but why Caister was not called as well. That is a question the MCA needs to answer.”
The incident has also stirred up further debate over the recent closure of Great Yarmouth’s coastguard station. The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Havenbridge House closed on May 1 as part of the MCA’s move to “modernise” its service on the east coast.
While the agency said there was no reduction in crews, lifeboats or helicopters, campaign group Coastguard SOS believed the loss of local knowledge could hit response times around Norfolk and Suffolk.
•Enquiries into what happened on Friday are ongoing with Norfolk police working with the coastguard.
A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive, which was initially called into support the police with technical support and advice, said the investigatory body is no longer involved, adding: “An HSE inspector has confirmed that initial enquiries have taken place and all information indicates that this incident didn’t happen at work.
Seven people were on board the dive boat which was on a recreational trip when the tragedy unfolded.
A second diver who was on the boat was also taken to hospital with suspected decompression sickness and was taken to land by the Gorleston lifeboat crew.