Northern Ireland

Bangor-based Belfast coastguard saved from closure

Coastguard helicopter
Image caption The UK government said the coastguard service needed to modernise

It has emerged that Belfast Coastguard has been saved from closure following a review of UK coastal stations.

It had been feared that the station, based in Bangor, would be lost under government plans to close more than half of the 18 coastguard centres.

The plans argued that new technology could modernise the service safely.

Belfast Coastguard is responsible for the whole of the coastline, from Lough Foyle, to Carlingford Lough, as well as Lough Neagh and Lough Erne.

The original proposal would have seen the number of centres reduced from 18 to eight - with only three remaining open 24 hours a day.

Transport Minister Phillip Hammond told the House of Commons on Thursday that Belfast Coastguard would remain open, and operate 24 hours a day.

North Down DUP MLA Peter Weir welcomed the decision.

"Had this decision gone the wrong way, it would not simply have been a blow for the staff here in Bangor, but for all of Northern Ireland," he said.

"It would have left the people of Northern Ireland very vulnerable. People talk about the golden five minutes - the first five minutes of an incident which are crucial to determining whether a person lives or dies.

"I think without the station here there would have been confusion and ultimately deaths."

The Bangor station will be one of eight, along with Falmouth, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornaway and Shetland.

A smaller station will be retained in London and the Southampton/Portsmouth area will be the base for the Maritime Operations Centre for the UK.

Coastguard stations at Clyde, Forth, Portland and Liverpool will be closed.

Campaign

Plans to close the facility were opposed by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland.

The issue was raised with the prime minister and the taoiseach .

Campaigners warned that the original plans could put lives at risk and ministers agreed to reconsider.

Diana Gadd, one of those campaigners, said it was vital that the service remained "fully operational".

"There was talk about downgrading it to a 12-hour station, a daylight only station," she said.

"Statistics can indicate that incidents do occur between a certain time period, but we all know that an incident can happen at any time.

"If the station were to close, crucial local knowledge would be lost, so precious time could be lost at the start of any incident."

During the consultation period Shipping Minister Mike Penning visited Bangor where he met the MP for North Down, Lady Hermon.

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