Public assured over Coastguard staff

The UK government Transport Minister Stephen Hammond has assured the public that efforts are ongoing to recruit and retain staff within the Coastguard agency.

The assurance follows news that staffing levels within the Maritime Coastguard Agency are “critical”.

Following the closure of the Clyde coordination centre 13 months ago, as part of cost-cutting measures by the government, assurances were given the Belfast centre would be able to cope with managing the safety of the Cairnryan to Northern Ireland passage.

But it emerged this week that staffing levels were below safe risk-assessed levels on more than 400 shifts last year after responsibility was transferred across the Irish Sea.

Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown, as part of a delegation of MPs, met Mr Hammond last week to discuss the situation and, in particular, the safety of the ferry routes between Cairnryan and Northern Ireland.

After the meeting, Mr Brown said: “It was clear that with critical understaffing at Belfast for over 400 shifts during the year (almost 39 per cent), that answers needed to be given.

“The minister and his officials said that there were three rounds of recruitment with the process ongoing and that retention within the service had been improved.”

MSP Aileen McLeod said the figures made for “worrying reading”.

She added: “Closing that centre, which had responsibility for the busy north channel ferry routes, and losing valuable local knowledge was bad enough, but for the replacement service in Belfast to be dangerously understaffed is completely unacceptable.

“These figures are even more worrying since Liverpool MRCC, which covers the Solway up to the Mull of Galloway is also set to close next year. The understaffing problems at Belfast must call the wisdom of proceeding with these closures into question.”