Belfast Telegraph

Coastguard station ‘key to air rescue’

By Sam Lister

Closing Northern Ireland’s only Coastguard station would also jeopardise air rescue missions, ministers have been warned.

The Republic of Ireland provides helicopters in emergencies free of charge thanks to the relationship between staff at Bangor and their counterparts over the border, the DUP’s Jim Shannon told the Government.

Putting that at risk would “most certainly end in loss of life” the Strangford MP argued in a three-hour Parliamentary debate on the closure plans for the UK Coastguard Service.

Mr Shannon said: “I fear that the prospective closure of Bangor Coastguard Station will put that at risk. It is critical that safety on the seas — with numbers of up to a thousand people and the fishing fleet of over 80 boats reliant on this station — is not jeopardised by money-saving schemes.

“It is not just the coasts that fall into the responsibility of the Bangor operation — it is also the inland waterways which include Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, and not forgetting mountain rescue for the Sperrins and Mournes.

“They are also the point of contact for all helicopter taskings in Northern Ireland and that includes the police and ambulance service.

“The minister must agree that if we lose the help and support of the Republic, it would most certainly end in loss of life.”

Merseyside MP Bill Esterson repeated warnings he made in previous debates that his local coastguards “don’t feel equipped to look after Northern Ireland” and want both to survive.

Transport committee chairwoman Louise Ellman called for guarantees that coastguards would “not be victimised” if they submitted their views.

Shipping minister Mike Penning gave that assurance and also pledged not to make any decision until the committee has reported its findings.

Mr Penning announced plans for reforming the service — which will mean just eight of the UK's 18 Coastguard centres will remain and only three of those will run round-the-clock — last December.

The Belfast Lough base is now in competition with the Liverpool centre for survival after the minister intervened to order the Northern Ireland station be earmarked for possible closure.

More than 1,200 responses have been submitted to the consultation, which has been extended by six weeks to end on May 5.

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