Coastguard fears floated again
A MAJOR Bangor-based Coastguard station is understaffed two fifths of the time according to the Public and Commercial Services Union.
The shortfall at Bregenz House, home to the Belfast Coastguard, was uncovered in a Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiry made by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.
The finding has been countered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) which says that while levels may be low other coastguard stations provide cover, keeping operations safe.
According to Maritime and Coastguard Agency data, between January 2012 and May 2013 Belfast was the fourth worst affected station in the UK, with 419 (40.5%) of 1,034 watches staffed below risk assessed levels.
Between May and September last year, when demand for the emergency service was its peak, this only fell to 37.5% – 115 of 306 watches.
According to the union, almost a quarter of all watches across the UK were staffed below the risk levels.
The union says the figures paint a deeply troubling picture as the government presses ahead with plans to cut 140 jobs and close nine of the UK's 19 coastguard stations, ahead of a new national operations centre on the south coast being up and running, contrary to a previous assurance from the MCA that this would not happen.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It is truly shocking that coastguard stations are so regularly running below safe levels and this must be addressed as a priority.
"We have never been convinced of the government's case for the closure of half of our coastguard stations and believe public safety is being compromised in the drive to make cuts."
A spokesperson from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it had recently filled 28 Watch Officer vacancies around the coast and that where Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) is experiencing reduced staffing levels, established "pairing" arrangements are used."
Two years ago, plans to shut down Bregenz House and run local coastguard services from GB were scrapped after the House of Commons transport committee accepted evidence from coastguards raising "serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed". As a result commitments to keep Bregenz House open 24/7 were given.
Ian Graham, branch secretary of the PCS told the Community Telegraph at the time: "There are still grave concerns among staff regarding first of all the proposed concept of operations and also following on from that, the number of staff to be based in this station."
He warned that the numbers quoted in the proposals were "not providing this service with enough staff".