Short-staffed Coastguard team operated at dangerous level on eight occasions in November
The Belfast Coastguard was dangerously understaffed eight times last month, it can be revealed.
The Coastguard team, based at Bregenz House, Bangor, are responsible for all waterways and coasts in Northern Ireland and the east of Scotland from the Mull of Galloway to Ardfern, including Jura and Colonsay islands.
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond revealed in response to a Parliamentary question that the Belfast Coastguard team was staffed at below risk assessed levels on eight occasions out of 60 shifts during November.
The situation is even worse across the water, where 20 out of 60 shifts at Liverpool Coastguard were understaffed in September.
A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said when the staff levels fell under what they should be at Belfast, the team received support from other centres, usually the closest geographically at Stornoway.
She also said Belfast was called on to support Stornoway when its team was below risk levels.
Local union representative Ian Graham said staff were under stress from the current situation as well as the ongoing transition to the 'Future Coastguard' plans.
He said most staff have until January 10 to decide if they want to stay with the Coastguard and either re-apply for their jobs or take redundancy.
A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said there are currently 22 staff at Bregenz House, with an extra three workers due to start next year.
"Currently, where a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) is experiencing reduced staffing levels, established 'pairing' arrangements are used," she said.
"This means each MRCC can be connected to at least one other MRCC that will provide mutual support. Under the future structure, the introduction of the 'National Network' as part of the modernisation of HM Coastguard will enable the National Maritime Operations Centre and all other centres to coordinate any incident around the UK coast.
"This will enable workload and incidents to be managed nationally rather than locally, as at present."
Two years ago Belfast Coastguard's existence was in doubt when plans were announced to close over half the stations.
The original proposal would have seen the number of centres reduced from 18 to eight, with only three open 24 hours a day.
But in July the Transport Minister announced that Belfast, Falmouth, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornoway, Shetland, London and Portsmouth would stay open.