UK

Coastguard bases keep search-and-rescue helicopters

  • 12 July 2011
  • From the section UK
Coastguard helicopter. Pic: MCA
Image caption The existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) contract is set to expire at four bases

Plans to keep search-and-rescue helicopter services at four key centres have been announced by the government.

The existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) contract is set to expire at bases in Shetland, the Isle of Lewis, Dorset and Hampshire.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the government would run a competition to procure an interim service at the bases for up to five years.

The contract would be similar to those already in place, Mr Hammond said.

Plans to keep the services at the two Scottish bases, and those in Portland and Lee-on-Solent, comes after the government halted a £6bn procurement programme for search-and-rescue helicopters in February. This was because the preferred bidder admitted it had access to commercially sensitive information.

Sea King helicopters

Under the privatisation plans, preferred bidder Soteria would have provided US Sikorsky helicopters to fly search-and-rescue missions from 12 bases, including ones operated by the Royal Navy and the RAF.

The Sikorsky aircraft would replace the Sea King helicopters which the Ministry of Defence plans to withdraw from service in 2016.

Mr Hammond said the RAF and Navy operations would continue while consideration was given "to the long-term provision of search-and-rescue helicopter capability".

He said he would announce the government's long-term intentions later in the year.

Last month a report by MPs warned that plans to close some UK coastguard centres raised "serious concerns".

The Commons transport committee said the proposals lacked support and would lead to a loss of local knowledge.

The government had wanted to cut the number of 24-hour coastguard centres from 18 to three but has since acknowledged its plans will be amended.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency head Sir Alan Massey said change was needed but safety concerns must be addressed.The Commons transport committee said the proposals lacked support and would lead to a loss of local knowledge.

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