Belfast's coastguard station 'left understaffed for half of the year'
Belfast's coastguard station was understaffed for more than half the time it was open last year, it has been revealed.
Belfast Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) was staffed below safe levels on 414 occasions out of 730 shifts.
The Coastguard situated at Bangor Harbour – saved from closure during cutbacks in 2011 – is responsible for the whole of the Northern Irish coastline from Lough Foyle, to Carlingford Lough, as well as Lough Neagh and Lough Erne.
The Secretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond revealed that 56.7% of all shifts in 2013 were understaffed.
In response to a written question from SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie, he said: "Her Majesty's Coastguard has recruited additional staff at Belfast MRCC during 2013 to address staffing levels; as a result Belfast MRCC is now staffed above complement." Meanwhile, it was revealed that RNLI lifeboats and lifeguards saved 575 people in Northern Ireland in the past year.
RNLI lifeboats were launched 255 times and brought 245 people to safety, while crews spent 1,459 service hours at sea and 109 call-outs took place in the dark.
RNLI divisional operations manager for Northern Ireland Gareth Morrison said: "2013 proved to be another busy year for the RNLI with an increase in both our lifeboat launches and rescues."
He added: "We would remind water users to always wear a lifejacket, get the appropriate training, carry a means of calling for help, check engine and fuel, tell others where you are going and check weather and tides."
STORY SO FAR
In 2011, plans to shut down the Belfast Coastguard and run local services from Britain were scrapped after the Commons transport committee accepted evidence from coastguards raising "serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed". As a result, commitments were given to keep Bregenz House, home to the Belfast Coastguard, open 24/7.