THE RNLI has responded to national criticism that it is 'diverting donations to give burkinis to Muslim women in Africa' while making UK staff redundant.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the charity is axing 135 jobs – with the majority coming from its Poole HQ.

The lifeboat charity says it faces “major challenges”, with a shortfall in funds and a rise in demand for its services.

Staff at its West Quay Road base were told about the proposed job losses last week.

The initiatives include an 'anti-drowning' project in Tanzania, which would provide Muslim women and girls with full-length Burkini swimsuits. It also funds crèches in Bangladesh that is says 'will prevent children from swimming in the sea'.

The charity has since clarified that just 2p of every pound donated goes to its overseas projects.

An official statement on the claims has now been released.

Bosses at the charity said: "The RNLI has always been dedicated to drowning reduction.

"The World Health Organization estimates that 320,000 people drown each year worldwide and we believe that with others, we should use our lifesaving expertise to try and help tackle this.

"Our work so far has shown that simple, inexpensive solutions are very effective; a relatively low investment in overseas projects goes a long way and makes a big difference."

Less than two per cent of the RNLI's total annual expenditure is spent on international drowning prevention, it is said.

"Providing the very best search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland remains our priority but we are also proud to use our expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly in countries where drowning rates are high," officials said.

"We greatly value our supporters and have not misled them.

"The RNLI's international work has been reported in detail in our annual reports going back several years and information is also available from the RNLI website and regularly reported elsewhere.

"The financial commitment to our international work is reported separately and there has been no sleight of hand."