Threat To Bangor Coastguard Station Continues Opposition to the consultation proposals is mounting by the day and local Northern Ireland politicians are pulling out all the stops to prevent the service from becoming unhinged and lives being put at risk. Two County Down MP’s have been battling to save the future of the Banqor Coastguard station from closure. South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has expressed her deep concern at the proposals and is seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, on the proposed closure of our only 24-hour coastguard station, at Bangor. Ms Ritchie said, “The Northern Ireland coastguard centre provides a vital service to the fisheries and tourism sectors right from Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough. For such a service to be axed will put not just put livelihoods at risk, but lives too. The courage of those who devote time to rescue efforts on our shores must not be taken for granted by government and funding must be protected. [caption id="attachment_19242" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The HM Coastguard is responsible for co-ordinating rescue services in the waters around Northern Ireland. Proposals to change current arrangements may leave NI without a full-time Coastguard station."][/caption] “This frontline emergency service has saved countless lives since its establishment and in the past year alone, its team have dealt with more than 700 incidents. For the SDLP, saving lives will always come ahead of saving money. “The document which has gone out to consultation proposes that the Belfast Lough station might become some sort of part-time station. Or it might close, in which case our nearest coastguards would be in a part-time station in Liverpool. The nearest full-time station at Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland. “This is an awful proposal which would expose the whole coast of Northern Ireland to danger. Marine emergencies don’t just happen during office hours. Coastguards in Aberdeen would not be much good to the South Down fishing fleet, to take just one example. “The consultation runs up until 24th March and I would urge everyone with any interest in marine and coastal safety to make their voices heard loud and clear. I certainly intend to let the Secretary of State know in no uncertain terms that a coastal constituency like South Down with the main fishing port in the north cannot simply accept a situation in which the nearest guaranteed assistance in an emergency has to come from the North Sea.” Over 8000 people have already joined up to the Facebook Causes to save Bangor Coastguard Station. Also, Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford, has called on the Prime Minister to give commitment to the retention of Bangor Coastguard Station. He raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time on Tuseday 12th January, 2011. In his response , Prime Minister Mr. Cameron failed to give any commitment in relation to the Coastguard Station’s future. Speaking after Question Time, Mr Shannon said, “The issue of coastguard provision is causing deep concern throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, I was not the only Member of Parliament to raise the issue today: one of Mr. Cameron’s own MPs, Sarah Wollaston, the member for Totnes raised the future of the Brixham coastguard in her South West constituency. [caption id="attachment_19243" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Valued for their services at the Down District Council 'heroes' awards last summer. Fireman Stephen Brown with his Bravery Award is pictured with the winner of the Emergency Services Award, the South Down Coastguard Rescue Team."][/caption] “There is UK-wide concern that government cut-backs in coastguard provision will put lives at risk. I am disappointed that when I questioned the Prime Minister on the valuable work of the Bangor Coastguard Station, the best he could come up with in response was to talk in generalities. Those who use the waters around the Northern Ireland coastline need to be certain that if they get in to distress or danger they will have a reliable and speedy response from the coastguard. I fear that the prospective closure of Bangor Coastguard Station will put that at risk. “For my own constituency of Strangford with several ports such as Portavogie and Portaferry it is essential that we have immediate local response and it makes more sense for this to be done from Bangor Coastguard station – I can only say that it is critical that safety on the seas with numbers of up to a thousand people and a local fishing fleet of over 80 boats rely on this station. “I have spoken directly to Owen Patterson Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Thursday and I have sought confirmation that he will fight for the retention of the Coastguard station. Local knowledge should not be redirected. “People in Northern Ireland waters should not be put at risk by Tory-Lib Dem budget cuts”, he added. The South Down Coastguard plays a key role in emergencies off the coast of Down and the recent grounding of an Ardglass trawler in fair weather serves to remind the marine community that had it been a stormy night, the outcome of the rescue of the crew of four could have had a different outcome. Five years ago on the 19th January, the Greenhill, a 58-feet prawn trawler ran aground while approaching Ardglass harbour in rough weather at night and two of the crew were drowned. Email:

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