Portland coastguard closure 'risk to life'

A decision to close Portland's coastguard centre has been branded "crazy" and a "risk to life" by members of Dorset's marine industry.

The centre is one of eight around the UK which the government said will close by 2015.

The area will instead be covered by a new Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) in Fareham, Hampshire.

Richard Reece, a retired master mariner, said the loss of local knowledge was the main concern.

The government originally wanted to cut the number of 24-hour coastguard centres from 18 to three but, following an outcry, agreed to look again at the plans.

Campaigners staged a protest march and 22,000 people signed a petition in support of getting the MOC based in Portland, but their hopes were dashed when the revised plans were announced in Parliament on Tuesday.

'Invaluable knowledge'

Mr Reece, who worked at Poole Harbour Control, said: "It's a concern because there's lives at stake here.

"Search-and-rescue operations are often about finding people who don't know where they are themselves."

Weymouth fisherman Brett Hibbitt said: "It's crazy - you are going to remove a lot of local knowledge from the coastline and it's going to compromise safety, not only in Weymouth but quite a substantial chunk of the south coast.

"It's not only the local fishermen - it's the local leisure people who go out there. They get into trouble, they do not know where they are and they have just got their line of sight.

"The coastguard's knowledge is invaluable in that situation, it can get a lifeboat to them and save lives in minutes rather than search around for hours for them."

Dan Jenkins, whose company Jenkins Marine operates tugs and barges out of Poole said: "These changes affect all vessels.

"The highest level of concern would be for the non-commercial traffic that carry less sophisticated equipment than other vessels."

He added: "Any lowering of the level of local knowledge could ultimately increase the risk to life."

South Dorset MP Richard Drax told Parliament that his constituents were "devastated" at the decision to close the centre and said it should be reinstated immediately should any problems arise with the new system.

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