The Coastguard, Emergency Towing Vessels and the Maritime Incident Response Group - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Blundellsands Sailing Club (MCA 53)


1)  The Port of Liverpool handles over 34 million tonnes of cargo per annum. Together, the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal generate 15,000 vessel movements each year on the River Mersey handling the most diverse range of international trade. Liverpool is ranked among Britain's largest deep sea contained ports and is the UKs major gateway for trade with the United States and Canada and serves more than 100 global destinations. The Seaforth Container Terminal handles nearly 700,000 containers a year and a second container terminal is planned for development on the River Mersey which will handle another 600,000 containers.

The Port of Liverpool imports more grain and animal feed than any other UK port, exports more scrap metal for re-cycling and includes among the traffic crossing its quays, timber, steel, other metals, coal, cocoa, crude oil, edible oils, liquid chemicals and much more. In addition Liverpool is the major British port for trade with Ireland and, in addition, carries nearly three-quarters of a million passengers with eight sailings a day. It is also the major British port for trade and the carriage of passengers with the Isle of Man. By any criterion the Port of Liverpool is a significant player in the economy of the UK.


2)  The East Irish Sea also plays a significant part in the economy of the UK. With 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 176 million barrels of petroleum estimated by the field operators as being initially recoverable hydrocarbon reserves from the existing fields in the East Irish Sea it is regarded as a mature exploration base. For example, oil is produced from the Lennox and Douglas fields and gas is produced from the Hamilton, Hamilton North and Hamilton East reservoirs. Other gas fields in the East Irish Sea include Lambda, Darwen, Asland, South Morecambe, North Morecambe, Dalton, Crossens and Binney, and are part of the Rivers Gas Fields. In addition Gateway Storage and Petrofac are together developing a 1.5 billion cubic meter offshore storage site which is due to provide up to one third of the UK gas storage capacity in the East Irish Sea. Nor must the generation of electricity from the three Nucleur Power Stations Sellafied, Heysham and Wylfa sited on the East Irish Sea be forgotten. Furthermore, the East Irish Sea contains the Barrow, Burbo Bank, North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats Wind Farms that currently feed 330MW into the National Grid.

Moreover, a further 5,644MW of power will become available on completion of the Burbo Bank Extension, Gwynt Mor, Walney I and II Solway Firth and Irish Sea Wind Farms when they are completed. The supply of gas, petroleum and electricity from the Irish Sea is an essential element in the future prosperity of the UK. To be aware of and oversee such UK strategic resources from unfriendly agents or terrorist attack it is essential that a professional Coastguard with deep and detailed local knowledge gathered over many years of the Irish Sea and its shoreline be in place at Liverpool Coastguard Station on a seven days a week 24 hours. Not in Aberdeen or Southampton /Portsmouth Maritime Operations Centres or even London where, with the best will in the world, despite any technological advances, such local knowledge will simply not be available! It is accepted that from the point of view of keeping Northern Ireland in the Union a favourable case might be made for Belfast. Nonetheless, in terms of coastline length, communications, workload and strategic importance to the UK on the basis of the evidence presented above the retention and, if necessary, the modernisation of the Coastguard Station at Liverpool would make good economic and strategic sense.


3)  A worrying feature of the Coastguard Modernisation Consultation report is the question of resilience. In an attempt to get value for money there seem to be an attempt to cut staffing levels to the bone. Whilst the evidence in the report of typical pattern of demand by month and typical pattern of demand by time may prima facie be persuasive it does not give details of the seriousness of an event or longevity of an event or whether such serious or time consuming events take place during the night time or day time. Moreover, say a serious incident takes place in the Irish Sea at night—which as mariners sailing pleasure craft we know can be frequently the case—and the Aberdeen MOC has a similar event ongoing in the North Sea together with another event on the West Coast of Scotland, with the best will in the world and all the modern technology available it appears highly unlikely that a successful conclusion may be brought to all three incidents. For example, a very serious incident in North Sea might take all the resources of all the staff at the Aberdeen MOC to deal with the incident in a professional way. Can the same staff also give their best endeavours to the incidents in the Irish Sea and the West Cost of Scotland? It is to be doubted!


4)  The proposals set out in Chapter 6 of the consultation document suggest that in both long running costs and capital expenditure, in Net Present Value terms, there would be a saving of £123 millions over 25 years. This amounts to savings generated by the preferred option of ONLY £4.92 million/annum. This is based on the upgrade of the current 18 MRCCs costing £639 millions over 25 years or £25.56 millions/annum as against the Preferred option costing £516 millions over 25 years or £20.64millions/annum. As against the strategic importance of guarding and monitoring the UKs offshore oil and gas wells, wind farms and nucleur power stations a saving of only £4.92 millions/annum is an insignificant amount. For the Department of Transport to say this level of expenditure is unaffordable beggars belief!


5)  During a recent visit to Liverpool Coastguard by 30 members of the Blundellsands Sailing Club we uncovered the fact that the Liverpool Coastguard Station is NOT going to close anyway! It is simply that under the Preferred option put forward by the Consultation Team the Coastguard Staff who currently occupy the building will be withdrawn! This information was elicited when we asked who else occupied the building. The Coastguard Management Staff will remain, the MCA's Surveyors will remain, the Coastal Pollution staff will remain and the Administrative Staff will remain! Moreover, the staff will continue to service the necessary administration regarding Seamen's Discharge Books and ABs Ticket's. Furthermore, the Liverpool Coastguard Station operates as a weather station for the Liverpool Bay area and NW of England. The Liverpool Coastguard Station is a purpose built modern building with up-to-date facilities. The MCA's Chief Executive in an interview last week on radio said that the technology used by the Coastguard was forty year out of date yet, during the course of the visit by the Blundellsands Sailing Club, there was no evidence of the technology used by the staff as being out of date! The question is, if the Station is to remain anyway, why withdraw the Coastguard Staff who currently operating from this building? During the Club's visit there were only three members of staff on duty doing a twelve hours shift. So why withdraw Coastguard Officers from a modern purpose built Station overseeing a maritime area of strategic economic importance to the UK and the Port of Liverpool if the building is going to remain in situ anyway!


6)  There is undoubtedly a need for the Coastguard to take advantage of the latest technology and, perhaps, to be reconfigured to deliver a more integrated and improved level of service. Moreover, there is an acceptance that under the current economic conditions there is an imperative to deliver efficiencies and reduce costs. Furthermore, there is a good case to be made for new and enhanced roles and responsibilities of staff manning the Coastguard Service. The question is whether the proposals in the Coastguard Modernisation Consultation Report will achieve this end. The Blundellsands Sailing Club is of the opinion that the proposals contained in the Report lack the operational integrity and resilience to ensure that the Coastguard can help to manage the use of our seas and protect those who use them. It is the view of the members of the Blundellsands Sailing Club that for operational resilience there should be three not two Maritime Operations Centres one of which should be on the West coast of the UK. The broad argument for sub-centres is accepted but not the cut in the numbers of centres being suggested. Moreover, from a security point of view, such sub-centres should be manned throughout the 24 hours for fear of being broken into and damaged by criminals or terrorists set on damaging the economy of the UK. To rely on the burglar alarms or on the Police to ensure Coastguard Stations outside day light hours are free from attack is simply not realistic in today's day and age! The security of Coastguard Stations will be a vital element in any modernisation programme and this, regrettably, has not been addressed in the Consultation Report.

In conclusion the Blundellsands Sailing Club strongly recommends that for all the reasons given above that the Liverpool Coastguard Station be retained.

February 2011

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Prepared 23 June 2011