AN official date has been set for the closure of Portland Coastguard.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has confirmed that operations of Portland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) will stop on September 15 this year.
The MRCC- currently based along Weymouth harbour- will be transferred to a new National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Fareham, Hampshire from this date.
In a letter, Keith Oliver, head of Maritime Operations, says: ‘The availability of Coastguard Rescue Teams (CRT), lifeboats and search and rescue helicopters in your areas will be unaffected.’ The transfer of Portland’s operations will go-ahead one week after the transfer of Solent Coastguard’s operational transfer to the NMOC.’ But campaigners say they strongly disagree with the MCA’s claim that the move will create ‘no difference’ in service.
Currently, Portland Coastguard serves the Dorset and Devon area.
From September, the new NMOC will cover Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Dorset and Devon.
Those opposed to the move say lives will be lost as staff will not have knowledge of the local area and will have a heavier workload.
Roger Macpherson, who fought to save the service, said: “It is ridiculous that there will be one base to cover the entire south coast and the busiest shipping channel in the world.
“People are increasingly staying in the UK for holidays and a seaside town like Weymouth is only going to get more and more popular- meaning we’ll need more and more coastguard support.
“But it does not just affect Weymouth- this will affect every seaside town from Kent to Cornwall.
“The risk is also that all the local expertise of the control room we have now will be lost.
“At the moment, someone with a good local knowledge is able to pin-point very quickly where an area is and the response that’s needed.”
He added: “Lives will be lost, it’s an unfortunate inevitability.
“But the government doesn’t see it that way. It glosses over that and says ‘it will be better, more efficient.’- but how can you say that?
“That is certainly not going to be the case.”
Mr Macpherson said he was also concerned about the morale of staff at the soon-to-be-axed centre.
This issue was raised last year in the House of Commons when Transport Select Committee chairman Louise Ellman grilled former Transport minister Stephen Hammond about the closures including Portland.
She said: “My concern is that by the time the new system is operational, many experienced coastguards will have left, weakening an essential emergency service.”