South West Wales

Swansea coastguard closure risks safety, claims union

A union claims the closure of Swansea coastguard station could see Bristol Channel rescues being co-ordinated from as far away as the Shetland Islands.

The station, based at Mumbles, will shut by 2015 as part of a review announced by the UK government.

The PCS claims rescues could be run from other stations, even including the Shetlands, if nearer stations are busy.

But the coastguard agency has insisted the changes would mean more officers would be available round the clock.

The claim comes as a campaign to keep Swansea open holds its first public meeting on Friday night.

Stations at Milford Haven and Holyhead, which had both been earmarked for closure, are among eight to stay open.

It follows a visit to the coastguard station on Tuesday by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's chief executive, Sir Alan Massey.

He was greeted by about 25 protesters objecting to the proposed closure, revealed last week in a Commons statement by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

The announcement all but reversed the previous proposals to shut Milford Haven and Holyhead and reduce Swansea to daytime operations only.

Swansea, which has 28 personnel, is now one of eight coastguard stations which will undergo phased closures between 2012 and 2015.

Steve Matthews, the Public and Commercial Services Union representative for Swansea coastguard, said staff were devastated by the proposals.

He dismissed the idea that emergency incidents dealt with by Swansea, the busiest coastguard station in Wales, could be dealt with by colleagues at Milford Haven.

Swansea coastguard dealt with 2,074 alerts in 2010, while Milford Haven, which watches over the UK's third largest port, and the coastline from Carmarthen to Barmouth, handled 1,006.

'Very busy stretch'

Mr Matthews said: "It's unfair for the staff at Milford Haven, that are actually having their numbers reduced, to co-ordinate three times the amount of incidents that they are currently co-ordinating."

Swansea coastguard station dealt with five police authorities, from Gloucester to Carmarthenshire, he said, and was the second or third busiest in the UK for inshore search and rescues such as for windsurfers and lost children on beaches.

He said: "If Milford Haven are busy co-ordinating another incident, the proposal is for the Maritime Operations Centre in Southampton to take over the responsibility of the Bristol Channel.

"They are based on the south coast of England which is, again, a very busy stretch. If they are busy, co-ordination will be passed to one of the quieter stations.

"We may find in the future that people in Mumbles, or down off Penarth, or in Weston-super-Mare are being co-ordinated from the Shetland Islands."

A consultation on the proposals closes on 6 October.

The consultation document by the Martime and Coastguard Agency says a "new concept of operations" would see nine 24-hour bases around the UK, co-ordinated from Southampton.

It said: "Within this single national network, coastguard officers will be able to deal more effectively with the seasonal and diurnal peaks and troughs of activity.

"Similarly, in the event of a major emergency, it will be possible rapidly to direct a greater number of officers to the task to ensure a timely, capable and appropriate UK response."

A public meeting will be held at Oystermouth Primary School, Swansea, at 1930 BST on Friday.

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